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Munch Conducts Roussel & Other French Composers

Roussel / Bizet / Saint-saens / Lpo / Munch
Release Date: 12/13/2011 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 9809   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Georges BizetAlbert RousselCamille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BIZET Symphony No. 1 in C 1. ROUSSEL Le Festin de l’araignée: Suite. 1 Suite in F 1. Petite Suite 2. SAINT-SAËNS Danse macabre 3 Charles Munch, cond; 1 London PO; Read more 2 Paris Conservatory O; 3 Amsterdam Concertgebouw O DUTTON 9809 (74:44)

While Charles Munch performed a great deal of music in concert outside the French repertoire—far more than recording companies of his time acknowledged—it is as a conductor of French music that he is largely remembered today. Here we have a selection of this material cut in the years 1946 to 1948, when he was under contract to Decca.

The Roussel is of singular interest. Munch recorded more by the composer than his contemporaries, even his rival André Cluytens, and he did so with more feeling for the music’s wit and color as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Munch’s Le Festin de l’araignée . (The lengthy “symphonic fragments,” not the full ballet, though that goes unnoted on the release.) It is a performance of detail and complete focus, meeting the work’s abrupt shifts of texture, tempo, and mood with ease. The “Danse du papillon” still has no betters, in my opinion, despite the technological advances that allow us to hear so much more in modern recordings. The Suite in F lacks the almost brutal power that’s periodically unleashed to great effect in Munch’s 1965 Erato studio performance with the Lamoureux Orchestra, but this one still has strength, lyricism, and a propulsive brio to commend itself. These same qualities can be heard in Munch’s Petite Suite , though the Paris musicians find both more incisive accents and a louche, boulevard vulgarity that eludes their British counterparts in the Suite in F.

To the Bizet. It’s been said repeatedly over the years by those who heard many of Munch’s live concerts that no two performances of his were ever quite alike in the same work, and his recordings frequently differed from these, and from one another. He famously disliked rehearsals and favored an impulsive response to the moment—something that often worked well while conducting orchestras familiar with his style, less so with those expecting careful preparation and consistency. One can only imagine what the London Philharmonic must have thought of Munch’s decision to floor the accelerator in the opening movement here, leading to a hard-edged, manic reading with some untidy scrambling among the strings. The succeeding three movements are somewhat more reminiscent of the Royal Philharmonic recording from 1963, though: glowing, lean-toned, and warmly phrased, unsentimental and flexible in its tempos.

Finally, there’s Munch and the Concertgebouw in Danse macabre , made after two days of sessions recording the Brahms Violin Concerto with the tragically short-lived Ossy Renardy. It’s a good but cautious reading, attentive to dynamics and rhythms, but lacking flair.

Dutton does a fine job balancing the desire for a clean sound with a bright top. Only the Danse macabre seems a bit muddy—and not having heard the originals, I suspect this was a matter of issues with the original, as the unnamed soloist (Renardy?) is very close and rich in sound. The slightly dry but plummy Decca sound of the period has been caught effectively, with great presence and good frequency response.

In short, there are reasons here for Munch fans to rejoice. Definitely recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Symphony in C major by Georges Bizet
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855; France 
Date of Recording: 06/03/1947 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London 
Length: 23 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Le festin de l'araignée, Op. 17 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; France 
Date of Recording: 06/06/1947 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London 
Length: 4 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Suite for Orchestra in F major, Op. 33 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; France 
Date of Recording: 06/02/1947 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London 
Length: 14 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Petite Suite, Op. 39 by Albert Roussel
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
Date of Recording: 10/09/1946 
Venue:  Walthamstow Assembley Hall, London 
Length: 11 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Danse macabre in G minor, Op. 40 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; France 
Date of Recording: 09/15/1948 
Venue:  Grote Zall, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam 
Length: 6 Minutes 46 Secs. 

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