FOR COLLECTORS MAINLY
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 05/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Munch is wofully under-represented in my own musical collection. After some thought and hesitation I've awarded the disc 5 stars, but it's not likely to suit all tastes, at least not in the Ravel. Music-lovers old enough to remember Munch will have a fair idea what to expect from him. His readings were typically notable for great strength of line, discipline and cohesiveness. No performance by Munch ever sagged, meandered or lost its grip on the overall structure of the work being performed. Under the circumstances one might have expected him to be ideally cast in the Bolero, and a very fine account it is. The basic pulse is not too fast, and predictably it has the right kind of swagger to the rhythm. In the last few repetitions Munch increases the tempo just a tad, which I find exactly right.
However, it's still possible to want a little more charm and seductiveness even in this piece. Charm and seductiveness were not the attributes most associated with Munch, and I'm not sure whether the slight lack I feel here is down to the conductor or to the recording. The sound (from the late 60's) is very clear and faithful and it copes with the full orchestral tutti without any sense of strain, but in Ravel's Bolero the sound-quality needs to be nothing less than spectacular, and in Munch's day recording techniques were only beginning to achieve that. It's much the same story with the Rapsodie espagnole and, to a lesser extent, with the Daphnis and Chloe suite. I quite appreciate that this is Ravel and not Debussy. Ravel does not call for half-tones and impressionistic sound in the way Debussy does, but there needs to be a certain `aura' about him all the same. It would have taken a genius of entirely the wrong kind to make the start of `Lever du jour' anything but breathtaking, and I need hardly say that Munch does the effect justice. However I compared the way Toscanini goes about it on my cherished old LP (not at all badly recorded), and there is simply more magic to it from him. Toscanini's musical temperament was not dissimilar to Munch's in many ways, and nebulous impressionism was not what he was most famous for either, but there's a difference nonetheless, hard to pinpoint but very perceptible.
Munch's great strengths remain. For power, forward impetus, rhythmic strength, clarity of texture and incisiveness he was hard to beat. There is also Honegger's second symphony here (for strings and trumpet), and in Honegger Munch is the genuine article in every possible respect. He was associated with this symphony from its earliest days, its characteristics are made for him and they bring out the best in him. The Orchestre de Paris was probably not quite the world's greatest orchestra but it does not fall down on the job in any way, and rises to considerable heights quite frequently. All in all, I would have felt grudging and ungracious not to have given this fascinating monument to the work of a great conductor and musician, now beginning to be forgotten, a qualified top score. My reasons why I've tried to make clear, and they could be your reasons why not. I am thrilled to own this disc, and I don't expect to be alone in that."
Fine Performances of Ravel's and Honeger's Music
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 11/11/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"These are the last recordings ever made by the noted French conductor Charles Munch. Appropriately enough, these are with the Orchestre de Paris, which he had founded shortly before these recordings. EMI's latest digital remastering has wrought sonic marvels from the analogue recordings; the performances sound as fresh and vivid as any I have heard from many digital recordings. Munch leads the orchestra in stirring, mesmerizing performances of "Bolero" and "Rapsodie espagnole" which show much admiration and affection for Ravel's scores. Their reading of Honeger's second symphony is also distinguished."
An aging Munch can't compete with his younger self
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 04/22/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I don't know what the two five-star reviewers are hearing, but these recordings from Chalres Munch's old age are sorely lacking in energy and finesse. I admire David Bryson, but anyone who heard the BSO in the Munch era knows that he was the exact opposite of a disciplined conductor who maintained a steady line. The point is moot here, however, because the high energy and panache that this conductor was famous for has declined into a steady, plodding gait that lets down every piece, especially Bolero, which proceeds slowly to a dull conclusion, and Daphnis, where Munch's authority is not enough to compensate for a generic reading that lacks delicacy and detail. Stick with Munch's justly acclaimed versions from Boston.
However, two things are lovely here. The newly fledged Orchestre de Paris produces a tangy French sound from all the solo instruments highlights in Bolero -- this must be the timbre Ravel heard in his head. Likewise, the Honegger Sym. #2 sounds much more French than in Karajan's famous recording -- it's the best thing here. Second, the recorded sound is lush and vivid, quite spectacular in fact. So if you don't mind Munch's autumnal approach, you might love this CD purely for its sensuality."