C1666. CHARLES MUNCH Cond. Boston S.O., w.Saramae Endich, Florence Kopleff, Hughes Cuénod, Mack Harrell & James Joyce: MATTHÄUS-PASSION (Bach). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-689, Live Performance, 26 March, 1959, Symphony Hall, Boston. [Under Munch and the sensitive and exacting guidance of Elliott Forbes, the Harvard Glee Club & Radcliffe Choral Society present this profoundly moving live performance beautifully displaying the splendor of the Symphony Hall acoustic. Mack Harrell is duly outstanding!] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This is surely not a performance for those who will only accept Bach’s music performed in a historically informed style. Even in 1959 this may well have been thought old-fashioned. But for those listeners who can respond to Bach’s music in the style of performance that was embraced by the likes of Willem Mengelberg, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Otto Klemperer, this is a treasurable discovery. I am not aware of any prior release of this 1959 Boston broadcast, and fans of Charles Munch will want to acquire it quickly. (St. Laurent Studio recordings are available through Norbeck, Peters, & Ford – www.norpete.com).
In addition to the large-scale style of performance that we might expect from these forces, Munch also makes many cuts. At 127 minutes this performance is about 40 minutes shorter than many HIP readings, but those are played at much faster tempos. Munch omits 18 numbers entirely, and shortens a few others. So one would never think of this as the only recording of Bach’s towering masterpiece for a collection.
However, to ignore it is to miss out on a thrilling, dramatic reading of the score. Much credit goes to Hugues Cuénod, whose Evangelist is the centerpiece of the performance. He sings with tonal beauty, dramatic force, and keen attention to the words and their meaning. Mack Harrell’s Jesus is warm, all-embracing, and beautifully sung. The other soloists are at least adequate and sometimes better.
It is the power of Munch’s conducting and the remarkable execution of his orchestra and choral forces that make the biggest impact. The chorus ‘Wer hat dich so geschlagen’ is overpowering in its beauty and dramatic thrust; ‘Und siehe da, der Vorhang im Tempel zerriss’, the scene with the Evangelist and the chorus, leaps out of the speakers with impact. Throughout one is impressed by the clarity of diction, emotional force, crispness of their rhythms, and the perfect choral intonation. One is also taken by the beauty of playing of many of the principals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We might argue with the concertmaster’s (Richard Burgin) solo during the aria ‘Erbame dich’, as his style is closer to Fritz Kreisler than to Bach, but one cannot deny the beauty of his tone.
Charles Munch was active at a time when there were many truly great conductors on various podiums through the U.S. and Europe (Reiner, Szell, Bernstein, Karajan, Klemperer, Mitropoulos, Stokowski, and Giulini leap to mind immediately). Even with that competition he achieved star status. The reason is that he energized every performance he gave. One never had a sense of a conductor going through the motions; every performance was an event, and every performance really mattered. That should be a ‘given’ with all performers, but it is not. If you approach this ST. MATTHEW PASSION on its own terms, clearing your mind of its expectations in 2019 for Bach performance style, you will find this an extraordinary moving and beautiful experience.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Endich made her professional singing debut in July 1957 at the Tanglewood Music Festival as the soprano soloist in Mozart's MISSA SOLEMNIS with tenor John McCollum, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Charles Munch. That same year she won second prize in the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air. In 1958 she made her professional opera debut at the Santa Fe Opera as Fiordiligi in Mozart's COSÌ FAN TUTTE.
Outside of Santa Fe, Endich was rarely seen in staged opera productions. She performed the role of Countess Almaviva with the New York City Opera in 1962 and 1963, and was seen as Marguerite in Gounod's FAUST with the Opera Society of Washington in 1965. Her only international opera appearance was a critical success: a portrayal of the title role in Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA at the 1964 Glyndebourne Festival.
On 19 January 1964 she was the soprano soloist in Mozart's REQUIEM for the Solemn Requiem Mass honouring the death of President John F. Kennedy in Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross. She also was the soloist in Verdi's MESSA DA REQUIEM under conductor Leonard Bernstein for the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.”
“Active chiefly as a concert and oratorio soloist, [Kopleff] appeared frequently with the Robert Shaw Chorale and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Shaw. Kopleff appeared on several of the Chorale's popular LP recitals in the 1950s and '60s, including'The Stephen Foster Songbook', 'Irish Folk Songs' and 'The Great Choruses from MESSIAH'. Other conductors with whom Kopleff worked and recorded included Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner and Maurice Abravanel.
- OPERA NEWS, Nov., 2012
“Having made his début in his mid-twenties, Hugues Cuénod continued to perform into his nineties, making his debut at the Met only in 1987 (when he was 85) with a firmly and expressively-sung Emperor Altoum, in TURANDOT. His debut at the Wigmore Hall the next year was no less impressive.
A student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, Cuénod participated in the pioneering recordings she made of the Monteverdi madrigals, and also made outstanding recordings of lute songs, of Couperin and of the Evangelist in Bach’s ST MATTHEW PASSION. But Cuénod was mainly known as one of the most expressive interpreters of French mélodie, a genre to which his silvery, youthful-sounding tenor was ideally suited. He had the unusual ability to ‘speak’ sung words like an actor with perfect diction and clarity, a facility enhanced by his delicate, dry timbre. His style was simple and natural and he never allowed himself to descend into the sort of sentimentality to which many singers of mélodie succumb.
Cuénod did not confine himself to the early and French repertoire. His career was so long-lasting and he was so good a sight-reader that he sang almost everything, from Machaut to Stravinsky, and was almost equally fluent in English, German and Italian as he was in his native French. Despite its light, ethereal quality, his voice could be heard even in the most demanding venues. On the operatic stage his finest roles included Don Basilio in NOZZE, the Astrologer in Rimsky-Korsakov’s LE COQ D’OR, and Sellem in Stravinsky’s RAKE’S PROGRESS — a role created for him.
In Britain, he became a mainstay at Glyndebourne, taking part in more than 470 performances between 1954 and 1987. His roles included Don Basilio and the travesty parts of Erice and Linfea in Cavalli’s L’ORMINDO and LA CALLISTO. He bowed out in 1987 in the cameo role of the Prompter in Strauss’ CAPRICCIO.
Cuénod’s last public appearance was at a gala to mark his 100th birthday in 2002, at which he was presented with the World of Song Award by the Lotte Lehmann Foundation. A guest at the reception afterwards recalled that Cuénod, who showed no signs of letting up, buttonholed him as he was preparing to leave: ‘Please stay tomorrow and come to my house: we’ll do music’, he said.”
- THE TELEGRAPH, 31 May, 2013
“Baritone Mack Harrell was a student of Anna E. Schoen-René at the Juilliard School in Manhattan in the early 1930s, and later taught at his Alma Mater and at Southern Methodist University. He straddled the opera and concert worlds, appearing with the Metropolitan Opera for many seasons while simultaneously maintaining an active concert and recital career. Harrell also sang in New York City Opera's second season at City Center in 1944, in the role of Germont in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA, THE NEW YORK TIMES noting that Harrell sang with ‘refinement and true sentiment’ while displaying an ‘extraordinary voice and mature musical talent’. Harrell sang in a manner which is instructive for students of the voice today, his voice illustrating a highly cultivated legato and portamento, which is - in all too many quarters - actively discouraged as being too mannered and emotional. That which you hear in Harrell's singing, has little in common with the thin, straight-toned approach often heard today.”
- Ned Ludd