Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonie fantastique. Romeo et Juliette:
Charles Munch, cond; Boston SO
RCA 67899 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 60:11)
This recording could be viewed as an interpretive and sonic face-off between Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on RCA and Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on Mercury. Munch and Paray specialized in French music throughout their careers, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra has been called America’s French orchestra. Mercury and
RCA dominated the Golden Age of Recording from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s. Munch’s
was recorded in 1954, and therefore precedes RCA’s best Living Stereo recordings. Now, both of these highly acclaimed musical and sonic showpieces have been reissued on SACD. Munch’s
is a two-channel recording. Paray’s Mercury is recorded in three channel.
What of the performances? Though they are both regarded as specialists in French music, their approach is consistently different. Paray’s tempos are inevitably swift, and his instrumental textures are light, almost to the point of being chamber-like. His approach has an essential French rightness and lightness of touch. Munch takes a more internationalized, virtuosic approach. This is also apparent in their competing versions of the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony. Munch is more charming in the second movement. Paray drives it too hard. In this magnificent juxtaposition of the Classical and wildly Romantic aspects of Berlioz’s musical temperament, Paray is more Classical, and Munch more Romantic. The sound and their respective orchestras contribute to this effect. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is clearly a better ensemble, and it plays the music with more finesse. In comparison, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra winds sound a bit scrappy and the strings lack body. Combined with Mercury’s immaculately clear sonics, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra almost sounds like an original instruments group in comparison to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Some listeners will prefer this. The chimes in the fifth movement are quite ideal on Mercury, but they are jarringly high pitched and forwardly miked on RCA. Mercury highlights every aspect of Berlioz’s transparent orchestration. RCA produces a more blended sound, which is lacking in air in the high frequencies, at least compared to the original LP.
In sum, the sound on these two recordings is certainly different. Both approaches will have their adherents, as will the performances. I prefer Munch interpretively, especially when you consider the superiority of his orchestra, but Mercury’s sound is better in the way it reveals Berlioz’s brilliant orchestration. If you prefer a more recent, much slower performance that emphasizes the Romantic
, Bernstein and the Orchestre National De France, Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra (both on EMI), or Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Telarc SACD) are all highly recommended. Colin Davis remains one of the finest modern exponents of the Classical
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1830; France
Date of Recording: 1954
Venue: Symphony Hall, Boston MA
Length: 46 Minutes 40 Secs.
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17: Love scene by Hector Berlioz
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1839; France
Date of Recording: 1961
Length: 13 Minutes 20 Secs.
Songe d'un nuit de Sabbat: V
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