Charles Munch – The Complete New York Philharmonic Recordings, 1947-1948 = MOZART, SAINT-SAENS, LISZT, CHABRIER, D’INDY – Pristine Audio (2 CDs)

Charles Munch – The Complete New York Philharmonic Recordings, 1947-1948 = SAINT-SAENS: Symphony No. 3 in c minor, Op. 78 “Organ”; D’INDY: Symphony on a French Mountain Air, Op. 25; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467; Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner”; LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; CHABRIER: Bourree fantasque – Edouard Nies-Berger, organ/  Robert Casadesus, p./ Philharmonic-Sym. Orch. of New York/ Charles Munch – Pristine Audio PASC 448 (2 CDs) TT: 2 hr., 12:55 [avail. in several formats from  www.pristineclassical.com] *****: 

Mark Obert-Thorn assembles the few (three) but precious inscriptions French conductor Charles Munch (1891-1968) made after his long-delayed appearance before American orchestras after World War II, specifically with the New York Philharmonic, beginning 23 January 1947.  In order to fill out the occasion, Obert-Thorn attaches portions of the Sunday CBS Philharmonic broadcast of 19 December 1948, introduced by commentator Deems Taylor. Given the splendid, commercial collaboration with veteran pianist Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) – in his own “specialty” of Mozart – the broadcast provides an earlier, particularly sanguine view of the Liszt A Major Concerto to complement the commercial recording Casadesus inscribed with George Szell for CBS (ML 4588).

Since Munch failed to record any Mozart symphony in his prodigious list of recordings, the vivacious rendition of the Haffner Symphony renders another service to collectors who consistently treasure the spontaneous music-making of Munch with affection. No less valuable, the Felix Mottl arrangement of Chabrier’s 1891 Bourre fantasque adds more music which Munch – somewhat unaccountably – omits from his extensive, formal Gallic discography.  The brisk, often gruff colors of the Chabrier quite sparkle with hectic energy.  The calm sections, however, acquire a decidedly chamber-music intimacy, enjoying the fine brass, battery, and string work of the period that would illuminate the upcoming Mitropoulos tenure with the orchestra.

The two large works on Disc 1 well established the Munch repute on records, especially his rendition of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony (10 November 1947) that appeared on 78 rpm and made an appearance on early CBS LP (ML 4120). Of course, audiophiles well know the Munch later RCA recording – a “Stereo Spectacular” – from Boston with Zamkochian at the organ.  But this New York reading, streamlined, manically driven and pungent, would dominate the catalogue for a number of years, its only “rival” having been a 1930 version from Piero Coppola. Casadesus himself made the D’Indy Symphony on a French Mountain Air a virtuosic calling-card, having recorded it with George Weldon and Eugene Ormandy, even beyond this fine inscription (20 December 1948) with Munch. Munch, too, retained a fondness for the piece, later inscribing it for RCA with his niece, Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer.  In the Mozart, Liszt, and D’Indy works, Casadesus’ touch and application of colors remains impeccable, his secure musicianship apparent in every measure. His cadenza for the first movement of the Mozart C Major Concerto proves especially gripping.

—Gary Lemco

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