, May 2012
So, what’s in it for you when you consider this latest Munch DVD?
The first thing that’s in it for you is that Munch never recorded the two Mozart symphonies in the studio. This makes this AV representation especially valuable. Another thing in it for you, should you be interested in such things (I am), is to see the Boston Symphony in action—the players, the faces, their responses, maybe to try to put names to the faces.
Things start with the Handel-Harty Water Music suite, a performance of Beechamesque brio and bravado. If you miss the days of such arrangements then Munch and the Boston won’t let you down. The basses are positioned behind the French horns, and the top to bottom sonority, despite the mono sound, is highly enjoyable. Even though Adolf Busch, Boyd Neel and countless others had trail-blazed in this repertoire, Munch makes no concessions, and nor should he have done. Munch is at his most animated in the Allegro finale, smiling very slightly, his baton swishing about fly-fisherman style in his exuberance.
The Linz Symphony is from 1958 and has by far the most degraded film of the three. Grainy and rather unclear, a critic should counsel gently on this point. It’s hardly unwatchable, but you will most certainly notice the difference. The performance is in Munch’s best, taut and linear style; I would suggest George Szell as a reasonable point of comparison in terms of expression. Though sometimes tense, it’s never driven and the wind phrasing throughout is a delight. The Prague was taped in November 1959, with footage comparable in quality to the April 1960 Handel. I sense, unless it’s the increased clarity of the film that alerts me to the upturned eyes directed toward Munch’s beat, that the orchestra follows him that bit more circumspectly in this symphony. He makes the briefest of pauses between the first and second movements, ensuring a kind of symphonic continuity to occur. The band is ready for him, and the unindulged Andante is all the better for his unsentimental approach.
Despite such imperfections, I enjoyed the DVD. It enshrines those precious, unrecorded symphonies, grants visual immortality to the Boston denizens, and serves up vital, energising readings. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review