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SACD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #5
  • Symphony #6 "Pastorale"
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Münch
RCA Living Stereo SACD 82876-67898-2 Hybrid Multichannel
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I've never thought of myself as a repeats snob, and always wondered why veteran critics complained about too many or too few. Well, this disc falls in the "too few" pile, with Charles Münch content to ignore most of Beethoven's intended repeats. Pity that, because this is vintage Boston Symphony glory on display, and the Pastorale is especially fine. Whether the repeats issue will be a problem for you is really a matter of taste, but it is rather jarring in places.

The Symphony #5 is not a work that the Boston Symphony has ever done as well as its Cleveland or New York counterparts, and while beautifully played, this version doesn't trump any of the other classic versions of the age. I do prefer this to Reiner in Chicago, finding that reading rather mechanical. Charles Münch cultivates a warmly singing sound that highlights the winds and coaxes sweetly flowing strings in the Andante. It's lacking in drive and tension, but it is certainly very pretty. The latter two movements of the work need more drive and rhythmic bite. This is all the more perplexing when one considers that the conductors' Choral Symphony is almost relentlessly intense, even bordering on the vulgar for some listeners. Whether Münch simply disliked the present piece is neither here nor there; this rendition simply fails to ignite.

The Pastorale is much better overall, although the lack of repeats makes it sound like the version presented in Fantasia with better sound. The Allegro before the "Storm" clocks in at a ridiculous 2:49 as a result, which has nothing to do with the appreciably swift tempos on display. Elsewhere, the cuts feel similarly disrupting. There is certainly nothing wrong with the execution, though. Münch and his orchestra create truly lovely sounds, and the whole work is effortlessly flowing. That storm really rocks, and the concluding Finale also proves beguiling. While the music undoubtedly sounds truncated, this is easily the best Beethoven from Boston there is (Leinsdorf and Ozawa never were reliable in this music) and fully worthy of your attention. Sounding wonderful in this hybrid Living Stereo issue, fans of the conductor and orchestra should grab this while it's still in print.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman