C1783. CHARLES MUNCH Cond. Boston S.O.: Daphnis et Chloé - Live Performance, 28 July, 1961, Tanglewood Festival; Ma Mère l'Oye - Live Performance, 1 Feb., 1958, Symphony Hall (both Ravel). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-939. [Live performances, 'Ma Mère l'Oye' brilliantly displaying the splendor of the Symphony Hall acoustic - the diaphanous sound captured in 'Daphnis et Chloé' is even superior; another most treasurable pair of Munch broadcasts!] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Charles Munch had an ideal tenure with the Boston Symphony in the 1950s, in stark contrast to the orchestra’s previous French conductor, Pierre Monteux, who arrived in 1919 and faced a musicians’ strike, including an onstage walkout by some players during a concert. Management wouldn’t tolerate such rebelliousness, and musicians had yet to be unionized (the BSO was the last major U.S. orchestra to take that step). By replacing 30 musicians, Monteux was responsible for creating the ‘French’ sound that became the orchestra’s trademark for decades.
To hear how French the BSO continued to sound at the end of the Munch era, an ideal example is this ethereal DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ from Tanglewood in the summer of 1961. Considering that Munch was a fiery Berlioz conductor, it’s a surprise to hear the gossamer strings, piping woodwinds, and gentle smoothness of this reading. The stereo sound from an unnamed source is clear, with a full dynamic range, but the Tanglewood tent also led to some diffuseness, which actually adds to the dream-like atmosphere that prevails.
Munch was a year away from leaving the BSO, and for all the affection that was felt for him, orchestral discipline and execution standards were declining. At least that was the story from critics, but here the silken string playing and lovely woodwinds (including the flute of Anthony Doriot Dwyer, who was hired by Munch in 1952, becoming the first woman to play in a major American orchestra) are exquisite. There’s a mesmerizing hush throughout except for the most dramatic numbers like ‘Danse grotesque de Dorcon’ and ‘Danse guerrière’. One expects Munch to whip up the excitement of the concluding ‘Danse générale’, and he does set a quick pace, but he seems reluctant to wake us up from this romantic dream of antiquity, and therefore the finale is one of the least bacchanalian I’ve heard.
The same sense of refined beauty extends to an elegant reading of the five-movement Suite from MA MÈRE L’OYE. This is Ravel’s 1911 orchestration of the original for piano four hands. He later expanded the score into a complete ballet that has 11 numbers. The year of this performance is 1958, and the sound is clear mono, closer up than at Tanglewood (and about 10 decibels louder, be forewarned). Munch doesn’t merely glide his way through the score; he points up and dramatizes ‘Conversation of Beauty and the Beast’ and subtly colors the chinoiserie of ‘Empress of the Pagodas’.
There are faint intermittent audience coughs and very minimal surface noise from YSL’s source. St. Laurent Studio is almost unbelievably prodigious in its output of BSO concerts, and this is Vol. 35 in their Charles Munch series. By no means was Munch under-recorded in the studio. Beginning in 1950, he made a wealth of RCA recordings, reissued in an ‘Original Jackets’ box set of 86 CDs by Sony. After departing Boston Munch returned to France and enjoyed another six years of steady recording; Decca has recently released a box set from that period, amounting to 14 CDs. Added to the St. Laurent series, these are the major components of his legacy on disc. But it can be extended back to the pre-LP era, along with incidental work for other labels like EMI.
The possibilities are endless for anyone who wants to know his music-making in complete depth. Most often one turns to live concert recordings for an extra sense of excitement and vibrancy, but in this case Munch’s famous RCA studio recording of DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ has those qualities. This new version captures him in a more ethereal mood, which makes it very well worth hearing. Warmly recommended.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
"It's difficult to articulate what makes Munch's conducting special - or indeed if there even is anything identifiably unique about it. A lesser talent would simply turn out generic, cookie-cutter performances; but Munch was anything but generic. He was one of the most musical of conductors; in so many of his performances, everything simply sounds 'right'. Certainly, his experience as an orchestral musician gave him a lot of practical insight into the mechanics of directing orchestra traffic. But a classic Munch interpretation never sounds calculated. Spontaneity was one of his hallmarks, sometimes to the surprise and discomfort of the musicians playing under him. From one night to the next, a Munch performance of the same piece might be very different, depending on his mood of the moment - yet it would always sound like Munch."
- Lawrence Hansen, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov. / Dec., 2012
"When you played a concert with Charles Munch or attended one of his performances as a listener, it was not just a concert - It was an event. He never used the same palette twice. As a player, you had to give 110% of yourself, or be left out of the music."
-Vic Firth, percussionist, Boston Symphony Orchestra