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Karl Münchinger: The Baroque Legacy
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
rec. 1951-75
ELOQUENCE 484 0160 [8 CDs: 752 mins]

Eloquence is doing excellent retrieval work on behalf of Karl Münchinger and his Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. This 8-CD collection is not, of course, the total extent of his recordings of baroque music for Decca as other discs attest; I’ve already reviewed a ‘Münchinger Miniatures’ disc that is largely, though not exclusively, baroque and doesn’t replicate anything in this box. Some Bach cantatas can be found elsewhere [4804844], his re-recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites is on 4581692, the St Matthew Passion highlights are also available in this marque, and there’s a ‘Favourite Baroque Miniatures’ disc on 4482392 that includes the conductor’s much-loved readings of Pachelbel, Albinoni and the third Water Music Suite, amongst others. So, whilst this box offers much it can hardly offer everything. And even though Münchinger and his Stuttgart forces were active recording artists even they couldn’t quite match the prolific Jean-François Paillard and his exhaustive run of LPs on Erato, now handily – if that’s the right word – to be found in a recent 133-CD boxed set. Eloquence has gone a different route from that omnivorous approach, breaking things down into boxes and singles.

Probably the first thing to note is the existence of three recordings of The Four Seasons. The earliest is the 1951 mono with Reinhold Barchet who plays with tonal breadth, the occasional portamento and with stylish ease of execution. The conductor’s opening Allegros tended always to be rather jog-trotty and the unnamed harpsichord offers occasionally haphazard contributions. In the 1958 stereo with Werner Krotzinger, a smaller-scaled personality is at work but one strongly attuned to the conductor’s slightly revised approach to tempo variance and approach to the harpsichord – which has fewer opportunities for flourishes. In 1972 the soloist was the Polish virtuoso Konstanty Kulka and for the first time there is a named harpsichordist – Igor Kipnis, no less. Again, it’s not so much a question of tempo changes – though this last recording is generally the swiftest – so much as greater sprung rhythms and additions of theatrical colour. Kulka is an exciting soloist, utilising a modern vibrato, and Kipnis provides apt support.

Another soloist to be savoured is Pierre Fournier who plays the tasteful Couperin dance movements, of which arrangements were made by a great predecessor of his, Pierre Bazelaire, and Fournier also plays the Vivaldi Concerto in E minor that Bazelaire and Vincent d’Indy fashioned from the Cello Sonata RV40.

The first disc offers space to Gabrieli - a number of whose Canzoni and sonatas are included and are played with expressive generosity and timbral richness, allied with the harpsichord playing of Brian Runnett - and to Telemann. The suite culled from Don Quichotte has plenty of variety and verve whilst the Viola Concerto is played by Heinz Kirchner. It’s a patrician reading that can happily take its place alongside the later Turnabout LP of Wallfisch and Faerber.
Bach’s Orchestral Suites were recorded in Geneva in 1961 though I suspect most people would be more familiar with his remakes. Either way, these are persuasive examples of the conductor’s art, even though there’s something quite measured about the Passepied of the C major. The density of the strings and the well-scaled but not ‘cutting’ trumpets ensure proper balance between sections. Jean-Pierre Rampal is the flautist in the second Suite. The Air of the third Suite has been successfully starved of sugar.

When released on LP, Wassenaer’s Concerti armonici were ascribed to Pergolesi, a composer then undergoing a decided renaissance. It is, to me, one of the very best things in the box. I suppose one could envisage a greater element of subtlety from the strings – the Stuttgart players were rather encouraged to provide generically warm-hearted tonal depth – but the phrasing is often very beautiful and the Italianate ripeness of the music is thoroughly convincing and so too the refined pathos of the slow movements.

The final two discs slide the box into Classical territory. Johann Christian Bach’s Op.18 Symphonies occupy disc seven. The sound is also very different from those pieces recorded in the 1950s and 60s. Recorded in a Ludwigsburg church it is swollen by the acoustic and yet very much more ‘present’ and forward in the spatial picture which actually suits these inventive, ear-catching pieces. Nos. 1, 3 and 5 are written for Double Orchestra but all six are full of lovely wind writing, dapper string commentaries and plenty of birdsong into the bargain. In 1951 the conductor recorded his own transcriptions of Bach fugues and they can be found in the final disc where there’s an eloquent realisation of Edwin Fischer’s transcription of the Ricercar à 6 and a powerful performance of the Grosse Fuge. The final piece, Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, is a meeting of the bands, the Stuttgart with members from Ansermet’s Suisse Romande. This is an incisive characterful reading.

The booklet has been finely put together. There’s a colour spread photo of the silver-haired conductor and his forces as well as other apposite black and white photographs. Colour reproductions of the Decca Emitape covers of the archive tapes can also be enjoyed.

There is a sibling Classical box, but there is a significant amount of Münchinger material ready to be scooped up into another box, such as the multiply recorded Brandenburgs and, especially interesting, The Art of Fugue, as well as a Wordsworthian host of other material. This particular legacy box has been elegantly packaged, though I will make a concluding, trivial plea for Eloquence next time to include an indent in the box cover so one can open it without having to shake it up and down until it disgorges its treasures within.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1
1 Sonata XIII
2 CanzonaVII
3 Canzona a 7
4 Canzon per sonar primi toni
5 Canzona X (Symphoniae sacrae … liber secundus, 1615)
6 Canzona II (Canzoni et sonate, 1615)
7 Sonata pian e forte quarta bassa
8 Sonata con tre violini (Canzoni et sonate, 1615)
9 Canzon prima à 5
10 Sonata pian e forte
Viola Concerto in G major (51:G9)
Don Quichotte: Suite
Brian Runnett, harpsichord (1–8)
Heinz Kirchner, viola
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

CD 2
Concertos for Violin, Strings and Continuo, Op. 8 Nos. 1–4
 ‘Le quattro stagioni’ (The Four Seasons)
1951 recording
Concerto in E minor for Cello, Strings and Continuo
Arranged from Cello Sonata, RV 40 by Vincent d’Indy and Paul Bazelaire
Pièces en Concert for Cello and Strings Arranged by Paul Bazelaire

CD 3
Concertos for Violin, Strings and Continuo, Op. 8 Nos. 1–4 ‘Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons)
1958 recording
Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major
Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major
Werner Krotzinger, violin (Vivaldi)
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute (Pergolesi)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
CD 4
Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute (Suite No. 2)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

CD 5
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major, BWV 1069
Concertos for Violin, Strings and Continuo, Op. 8 Nos. 1–4 ‘Le quattro stagioni’ (The Four Seasons)
1972 recording
Konstanty Kulka, violin (Vivaldi)
Igor Kipnis, harpsichord (Vivaldi)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
CD 6
Concerti armonici
Concerto No. 1 in G major
Concerto No. 2 in B flat major
Concerto No. 3 in A major
Concerto No. 4 in G major
Concerto No. 5 in F minor
Concerto No. 6 in E flat major
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
CD 7
Symphonies, Op. 18 Nos. 1–6
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

CD 8
1 Fugue in A minor, BWV 947
2 Fugue in G minor ‘The Great’, BWV 542
Transcribed by Karl Münchinger
Musical Offering, BWV 1079 Transcribed by Edwin Fischer
3 Ricercare à 6
Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133
Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor, H.I:45 ‘Abschieds-Symphonie’ (Farewell)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Members of L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Haydn)
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
rec. 1951-75

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