Fabulous and unique recording of Vaughan Williams' 8th Symphony by Munch
Plus superb stereo recordings of Ravel and d'Indy, all in new 32-bit Pristine XR remasters
REVIEW d'Indy Symphony (1995 reissue)
Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer in the d'Indy has the handicap of a tap-room piano, but the poise, delicacy and spirit of her playing shine through (her subito and sustained pp from 4'36" in the first movement, is, like much else here, utterly enchanting). Munch takes a fresher view of the score than many latter-day interpreters, and judges to perfection the difficult tempo relationships in the central Assez modéré. Had not Dutoit (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet) come up trumps with a recent account of the d'indy that must be one of the finest things he has done in Montreal (full-price coupled with the Franck Symphony), this Boston account would be a clear first choice.
J.S., Gramophone, May 1995
Notes on the recordings:
The restoration and remastering of this release has been particularly fascinating for me. First of all we have what would appear to be the only extant recording of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 8 in D minor which features neither a British orchestra nor a British conductor. Indeed we can only trace one other recording of the work, made in the late 1950s with Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic, which was not made with a British orchestra. Previously unreleased, Munch and the Boston Symphony make a superb job in this broadcast recording from the Berkshire Festival at Tanglewood - some may even find this the finest recording this symphony has ever had; it's certainly how it was introduced to me.
We opted to couple the Vaughan Williams with the commercial Ravel and d'Indy recording partly because of the links between the two French composers and Vaughan Williams. Seeking advice over orchestration, he was advised early in his career to study with both Frenchmen, and indeed did spend time working under Ravel in 1908, who described Vaughan Williams as the only one of his pupils who didn't write music like his own.
The discs used for these transfers are contemporary audiophile pressings on the Classic Records label, remastered from the original RCA Victor master tapes and pressed onto 200g single-sided vinyl at 45rpm for maximum fidelity. Despite some unexpected technical difficulties experienced with the discs themselves (all easily resolved in the restoration process), the sound quality is indeed superb here. Further impressions of these discs can be found in our newsletters of 16 and 23 November 2012, archivedhere at the Pristine Classical website.
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Charles Munch (26 September 1891 – 6 November 1968) was an Alsatian symphonic conductor and violinist. Noted for his mastery of the French orchestral repertoire, he is best known as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Munch was born in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, German Empire (now France, since 1919). The son of organist and choir director Ernst Münch, he was the fifth in a family of six children. He was the brother of conductor Fritz Münch and the cousin of conductor and composer Hans Münch. Although his first ambition was to be a locomotive engineer, he studied violin at the Strasbourg Conservatoire. His father Ernst was a professor of organ at the Conservatoire and performed at the cathedral; he also directed an orchestra with his son Charles in the second violins.
After receiving his diploma in 1912, Charles studied with Carl Flesch in Berlin and Lucien Capet at the Conservatoire de Paris. He was conscripted into the German army in World War I, serving as a sergeant gunner. He was gassed at Péronne and wounded at Verdun.
In 1920, he became professor of violin at the Strasbourg Conservatoire and assistant concertmaster of the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra under Joseph Guy Ropartz, who directed the conservatory. In the early 1920s he was concertmaster for Hermann Abendroth's Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne. He then served as concertmaster of theLeipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter from 1926 to 1933.
At the age of 41, Munch made his conducting debut in Paris on 1 November 1932. Munch's fiancée, Geneviève Maury, granddaughter of a founder of the Nestlé Chocolate Company, rented the hall and hired the Walther Straram Concerts Orchestra. She was also an accomplished translator of Thomas Mann. Munch also studied conducting with Czech conductor Fritz Zweig who had fled Berlin during his tenure at Berlin's Krolloper.
Following this success, he conducted the Concerts Siohan, the Lamoureux Orchestra, the new Orchestre Symphonique de Paris, the Biarritz Orchestra (Summer 1933), theSociété Philharmonique de Paris (1935 to 1938), and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (1937 to 1946). He became known as a champion of Hector Berlioz, and befriended Arthur Honegger, Albert Roussel, and Francis Poulenc. During these years, Munch gave first performances of works by Honegger, Jean Roger-Ducasse, Joseph Guy Ropartz, Roussel, and Florent Schmitt. He became director of the Société Philharmonique de Paris in 1938 and taught conducting at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1937 to 1945.
He remained in France conducting the Conservatoire Orchestra during the German occupation, believing it best to maintain the morale of the French people. He refused conducting engagements in Germany and also refused to perform contemporary German works. He protected members of his orchestra from the Gestapo and contributed from his income to the French Resistance. For this, he received the Légion d'honneur with the red ribbon in 1945 and the degree of Commandeur in 1952.
Munch made his début with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on 27 December 1946. He was its Music Director from 1949 to 1962. Munch was also Director of the Berkshire Music Festival and Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) from 1951 through 1962. He led relaxed rehearsals which orchestra members appreciated after the authoritarianSerge Koussevitzky. Munch also received honorary degrees from Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard University, and the New England Conservatory of Music.
He excelled in the modern French repertoire, especially Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, and was considered to be an authoritative performer of Hector Berlioz. However, Munch's programs also regularly featured works by composers such as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wagner. His thirteen-year tenure in Boston included 39 world premieres and 58 American first performances, and offered audiences 168 contemporary works. Fourteen of these premieres were works commissioned by the Boston Symphony and the Koussevitzky Music Foundation to celebrate the Orchestra's 75th Anniversary in 1956. (A 15th commission was never completed.)
Munch invited former Boston Symphony music director Pierre Monteux to guest conduct, record, and tour with the orchestra after an absence of more than 25 years. Under Munch, guest conductors became an integral part of the Boston Symphony's programming, both in Boston and at Tanglewood.
Munch led the Boston Symphony on its first transcontinental tour of the United States in 1953. He became the first conductor to take them on tour overseas: Europe in 1952 and 1956, and East Asia and Australia in 1960. During the 1956 tour, the Boston Symphony was the first American orchestra to perform in the Soviet Union.
Selections from Boston Symphony rehearsals under Leonard Bernstein, Koussevitzky, and Munch were broadcast nationally on the NBC Radio Network from 1948-1951. NBC carried portions of the Orchestra's performances from 1955-1957. Beginning in 1951, the BSO was broadcast over local radio stations in the Boston area. Starting in 1957, Boston Symphony performances under Munch and guest conductors were disseminated regionally, nationally, and internationally through the Boston Symphony Transcription Trust. And, under Munch, the Boston Symphony first appeared on television.
Munch returned to France and in 1963 became president of the École Normale de Musique. He was also named president of the Guilde Française des Artistes Solistes. During the 1960s, Munch appeared regularly as a guest conductor throughout America, Europe, and Japan. In 1967, at the request of France's Minister of Culture, André Malraux, he founded the first full-time salaried French orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, and conducted its first concert on 14 November 1967. The following year, he died of a heart attack suffered at his hotel in Richmond, Virginia while on an American tour with his new orchestra. His remains were returned to France where he is buried in theCimetière de Louveciennes. EMI recorded his final sessions, including Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, with this orchestra, and released them posthumously.
In 1955, Oxford University Press published "I Am a Conductor" by Munch in a translation by Leonard Burkat. It was originally issued in 1954 in French as "Je suis chef d'orchestre." The work is a collection of Munch's thoughts on conducting and the role of a conductor.
D. Kern Holoman wrote Munch's first biography in English, "Charles Munch." It was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.
Munch's discography is extensive, both in Boston on RCA Victor and at his various European posts and guest conducting assignments on various labels, including EnglishDecca, EMI, Nonesuch, Erato and Auvidis-Valois.
He began making records in Paris before the war, for EMI. Munch then made a renowned series of Decca Full Frequency Range Recordings (FFRR) in the late 1940s. After several recordings with the New York Philharmonic for Columbia, Munch began making recordings for RCA Victor soon after his arrival in Boston as Music Director. These included memorable Berlioz, Honegger, Roussel, and Saint-Saëns tapings.
His first stereophonic recording with the Boston Symphony, in Boston's Symphony Hall in February 1954, was devoted to a complete version of The Damnation of Faust byHector Berlioz and was made simultaneously in monaural and experimental stereophonic sound, although only the complete score was released in monaural version. The stereo tape survives only fragmentarily. The monaural version of this recording was added to the Library of Congress's national registry of sound. Among his final recordings in Boston was a 1962 performance of César Franck's symphonic poem Le chasseur maudit.
Upon Munch's return to Paris, he made Erato disks with the Orchestre Lamoureux, and with the Orchestre de Paris he again recorded for EMI. He also made recordings for a number of other companies including Decca/London.
A number of Munch's recordings have been available continuously since their original releases such as Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony and Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. RCA reissued Munch Conducts Berlioz in a multi-disc set, including everything they had. BMG/Japan has issued two different editions of Munch's recordings on CD, 1998 and 2006. The latter was 41 CDs and encompassed all but a handful of Munch recordings with the Boston Symphony. It made available a number of recordings from the first ten years of Munch's tenure in Boston for the first time in more than 50 years.