Because Charles Munch recorded all of these works (with the exception of Le Tombeau de Couperin, I believe), with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the salient question here is not, "Is Charles Munch one of the great conductors in this repertoire?" – that goes without saying – but, "How much does he make a different orchestra sound like the Boston Symphony Orchestra?"
The answer is, "Quite a bit." All but Daphnis make up a "complete" concert from March 28, 1954. (I never thought about it before, but I assume 50 minutes of music makes up a broadcast concert.) On this occasion, Munch was filling in for Toscanini, and he selected his own repertoire for the broadcast – repertoire that was highly characteristic of him. While it would be inaccurate to say that he transforms the sound of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, I think there are many subtle touches, as one plays through this disc, that add up to a different sound than usual for the orchestra. Textures are airier, colors are brighter, and the brass have a slightly more nasal sound. On the other hand, there's more tension here than in Boston, even though tempos are a little slower here than they are in the corresponding studio recordings. The last section of Ibéria, "Le matin d'un jour de fête," even sounds nervous. Le Tombeau de Couperin is not a disappointment; it ticks like a clock but also pulses like a human heart. In this work, a bit of detachment – but not too much – facilitates a classic performance. If anything, the NBC Bacchus et Ariane is more unbuttoned than the one from Boston, which doesn't hurt it.
The Daphnis suite dates from January 2, 1949. The quality of the sound is slightly more muffled than in the broadcast material, but the performance is a vivid one – exciting in the final "Danse générale," and both languorous and erotic in the central section.
Munch's admirers will not be disappointed by this CD, particularly if their chief reason for purchasing it is for Le Tombeau de Couperin.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle