Charles Munch conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra = BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14; DEBUSSY: La Mer; RAVEL: Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe

by | Jun 3, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Charles Munch conducts Boston Symphony Orchestra = BERLIOZ:
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14; DEBUSSY: La Mer; RAVEL: Suite No. 2 from
Daphnis et Chloe

Studio: VAI DVD 4317 

Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM Mono 
Length: 96 minutes 
Rating: ****

Taped at the last concert (17 April 1962) of the 1961-1962 season,
which ended the tenure of Charles Munch (1891-1968) with the Boston
Symphony, this WGBH live telecast from Sanders Theatre, Boston
University captures Munch in the French repertory which he loved and
for which he is best known. In a bleached-out black and white,
suffering a low hum or static buzz, the kinescope still reveals Munch
as a sensitive, articulate orchestra leader of first rank, evoking all
kinds of colors and a grand line from his silky ensemble. The Munch
tempos are not particularly slow; and when he wishes, he can quite cut
loose for some visceral excitement in the March to the Scaffold and the
Witches‚ Sabbath from the Berlioz, or in the final pages of La Mer,
where the trumpets have the added flourish a la Triton’s rising from
the waves.

The Boston’s flute (Doriot Anthony Dwyer), English horn (Louis Speyer),
piccolo (George Madsen), and tympanist (Everett Firth) deserve special
praise for their respective contributions, and the camera is certainly
aware of them. The Scene in the Country from the Berlioz is a study in
smooth transitions, each cued with only a nudge from Munch’s shoulder,
while his baton ushers in the steady pulse. Concertmaster Richard
Burgin and his string section shine the entire evening, but the opening
of the Ravel suite was the wonder of American orchestral ensembles, the
Philadelphia sound notwithstanding. I recall Virgil Thomson’s having
made the bizarre complaint that the BSO was over-rehearsed and lacked
spontaneity in its music-making, but I detect nothing of the
professional disease in these fine renditions of Gallic repertory,
played by the BSO as a valedictory salute to its cultured leader of the
past thirteen seasons. A tender, often vividly effective musical and
historical document.

–Gary Lemco

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