In a class of its own
Marc Haegeman | Gent, Belgium | 10/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's clear that RCA must be the champion of re-release and re-packaging, but then again this famous Ravel/Debussy disc from the mid-fities in the Living Stereo series remains in a class of its own. The winning combination of Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony musicians set standards of orchestral virtuosity, sense of atmosphere (one can really smell the fragrances of the night in Debussy's "Images") and full-blooded excitement that have hardly ever been equalled, let alone surpassed. And very few have proven more authoritative and eloquent than Charles Munch in the French repertory.
Available now in convincingly enhanced SACD sound quality (which is indeed an improvement of its previous CD-guises in clarity, warmth and pure sonic impact), this is one of the greatest discs of Ravel and Debussy of all time.
Doug - Haydn Fan | California | 10/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Munch and the Boston Symphony combine the ultimate in orchestra playing with a power and muscularity sometimes missing in these works. This RCA issue is also one of the best transfers of LP to CD, with solid bass and even some bloom from the horn player's instruments.
It's amazing to realize one would have had to spend more for this recorded music when it first came out than we pay today.
The strongest part of this collection is not the Bolero, hopelessly over-hyped on the back cover as the greatest recoding of the music ever made, for indeed the performance fails to follow Ravel's careful markings of both time and accent, and comes off as drum noise with added instruments - completely lacking in any imagination. Rather instead turn to the La Valse, which catches some of the legendary hysteria Munch found in this music - the whole piece is conceived on an enormous scale - more something one might expect from the Stokowski of the early days back with Philadelphia. The playing throughout crackles with lightning strikes of energy - my favorite version!
The Rapsodie Espagnole is the third of three magnificent recordings given this music by RCA - the other two are with Reiner and Martinon leading Chicago. The Boston soloists simply stun - not only do they execute as well as better than their modern peers, but they bring to the music an extra degree of style and individual tone. Much leads the music nearly as well as Reiner, and that's the highest praise.
What most amazes - the extremely well rehearsed Debussy Images - this is some of the best leadership I can remember hearing from Munch. Few conductors, including Boulez, can keep up with this level of detailed intensity - you hold your breath in wonder in the opening selection, Gigues. Condcuting of a very high order!
We usually associate Munch with excitement and verve and certainly this music has that in bunches - but here we can hear a true superior conductor at work - Munch often does not receive full credit for his skills. Here they're on full display!
If you enjoy this issue the entire series of reissues of orchestra music by RCA is very good. Especially not to be missed is Reiner's performances of Bartok.
A must-listen for audiophiles
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 07/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"RCA is leading the way in releasing hybrid SACDs at mid-price, after a decade when we were asked to pay a hefty premium for the new technology. They have selected choice itmes from the Living Stereo catalog, and as a result RCA's reisues are at the forefront of the industry. Munch's famous collection of Ravel and Debussy from the Fifties has always been an audiophile favorite, but its SACD incarnation, even if you listen through two-channel stereo instead of surround sound, is impeccable for spaciousness and detail
Munch's interpretations are self-recommending. Boulez and Karajan surpass these readings in finesse and precision, but Munch brought excitment to French music without undue sophistication and fussiness. The wind solos in Bolero, for example, aren't self-conscoiusly nuanced; they are played for direct, sometimes brash impact and the thrill of Ravel's orchestral magic. The same holds true for everything else here."