Charles Munch – Boston Rarities, Vol. 2 = BEETHOVEN: Gratulation: Menuet in E-flat Major, WoO 3; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, D. 125; DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; BLOCH: Schelomo; HAIEFF: Symphony No. 2 – Boston Sym. Orch./ Charles Munch – Pristine Audio PASC 417, 79:45 [avail. in various formats (incl. Ambient Stereo) from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Recording engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn returns to the rich legacy of Charles Munch (1891-1968) with his Boston Symphony Orchestra, unearthing vintage inscriptions made 1949-1958. While the major revival for collectors will likely be the 30 January 1957 stereo recording of Ernest Bloch’s passionate Schelomo Rhapsody with Russian cello virtuoso Gregor Piatagorsky (1903-1976), the first selection, the 20 December 1949 Beethoven Menuet – originally a 45 rpm filler for the Beethoven Seventh Symphony – already makes unwonted, charming sparks. The Bloch itself sings in high dudgeon, declaiming and exhorting us in Biblical proportions.
From the same recording session as the Beethoven, the 1813 Schubert Second Symphony – originally issued on 7″ 45 rpm and as a 10” LP (LM 41) – enjoys a lithely fluent energy, especially in the Mozartean second movement Andante, a theme and variations that displays much of the BSO color potential. The last movement Allegro, a transparent and witty rondo, consistently arrests our attention in the agogic detail and refreshed flourishes that mark a sixteen-year-old genius of music.
In the midst of the relative un-familiarity, we have Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, hardly a Munch “rarity.” But the scarcity value increases when we consider that this January 1956 version has consistently had to yield to reissues of the Munch rendition from 1962. In true stereo, this reading has two harps in antiphon, responding from different sides of the performing space.
The last entry on the program – the Alexei Haiff Symphony No. 2 (30 November 1958) – had complemented the RCA LP LSC 2352 of Symphony No. 1 by Easley Blackwood. The music, transcribed from a piano sonata, exerts an austere, frequently lyrical classicism in three movements. The Andante middle movement exhibits a winning sense of color and contour. The trumpet of Roger Voisin figures pleasantly. Somewhat academic in character, the last movement Maestoso moves into counterpoints, peppered with quick riffs from the various orchestral choirs in dialogue. If the writing reminds us of anyone, it might be the wittily slick punctuations we encounter in Hindemith. As a showpiece for the BSO brilliantine, the work succeeds admirably. Once more, we owe Mark Obert-Thorn and the producers at Pristine a hearty debt of collectors’ gratitude.