(2 out of 5 stars)
"These performances may be interesting from a historical point of view, but the orchestra is very bad. They are out of tune most of the time, and the ensemble playing leaves a lot to be desired. I am well acquainted with the general standards of orchestral performance in the 1920's, and have a large collection of 78's from this period. This orchestra is third rate, even by 1920's standards. There are recordings of the London Symphony under Weingartner, Chicago under Stock, New York under Mengelberg, and Philadelphia under Stokowski from the same period that are played far better.
Muck's renditions are very objective and uneccentric. That is partly a stylistic choice, and I believe it is partly because the orchestras he had access to were just not capable of playing the music except on a very basic level. I have heard municipal youth orchestras that are better than this.
The transfers are excellent, and Mark Obert-Thorn has done a fine job of getting every scrap of sound off of those original disks.
One question to bear in mind is: if not for the historical significance of the recording, would you still want to listen to it as a performance? In other words, is there good music making on this disc that holds its own as a musical performance regardless of its historical context? The answer here, in my opinion, is "no." If you are studying early twentieth century performance practice, and your sole interest is an example of just how unromantic and technically incapable some performances of the time could be, then by all means, part with your money and buy this recording.
If you want to hear what Muck was truly capable of, given a more capable orchestra, you should listen to his recording of Parsifal with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra (Naxos Historical 8.110049-50). His style there is also very plain and direct, but on that recording there are sounds of music being made: still with some imperfections, but nothing grotesque or sub-par for the time. There is just a tad more elasticity (hardly noticeable, but just enough to tell that the musicians understand what they are playing and are capable of some kind of expression). I have nothing against objectivist Wagner performances - Klemperer's are among my favorites, I just cannot stand inept performances being reissued for no reason other than having the label of "historic.""