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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #7, Op. 92 *
  • Symphony #8, Op. 93
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
RCA Victor Red Seal 38427 *Monaural
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This issue completes my survey of the three Japanese ArkivCDs that restore Charles Munch's Boston Beethoven studio recordings to the active catalog. As I have already mentioned, Munch's Beethoven 5th (beautiful, but ordinary), 6th (lovely, but without any repeats), and 9th (fierce, thrilling, and badly recorded) are available in the domestic market. That leaves his recordings of the 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 8th. Those recordings (along with the overtures "Leonore" and "Fidelio") are now distributed by ArkivMusic at very reasonable prices.

The present disc contains the 7th Symphony in clear mono, and the 8th Symphony, last seen in one of RCA's giant "Living Stereo" box sets. As far as I know, this is the only way to get the 7th, one of the conductor's earliest (if not the earliest) recordings in Boston. It's a traditional rendition, but features flowing tempos and tremendous momentum in the outer movements. The Boston woodwinds are typically excellent, the lower strings somewhat less so. Munch was never good with repeats, but unlike his otherwise fine "Pastorale", I don't feel like anything feels cut up. This is not an essential version of the work, but does have importance as a document of the Munch and Boston discographies.

The 8th Symphony is in stereo and sounds pretty terrific. Right from the start, the glowing strings and highly individual winds make a most favorable impression. Recorded seven years after the 7th, I find the orchestra much improved and much more "French" in character. In a work like this – one which thrives off elegance and poise, but which also requires power – I see this as a definite strength. The Boston Symphony simply attacks the opening movement. It's hardly subtle, but it is tremendously exciting. Again, repeats are largely ignored, but every moment powers relentlessly into the next. The inner movements are lovely, but the concluding Allegro simply rocks. Not too fast, the tempo chosen allows for each section to shine. Notes are in Japanese only, and there are again some odd noises in the engineering here and there. Never mind. If you love Beethoven and Boston, this is essential.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman