In 1954 Fritz Reiner recorded Also Sprach Zarathustra and Charles Munch the Symphonie fantastique, and in their Living Stereo reissues one could mistkae them for contemporary recordings, so clear, detailed, and dynamic are they. In terms of atmosphere and spaciousness, they surpass many current recordings. For far too long RCA abused them with edgy early digitual reissues, but now they've been given a new lease on life, and the lease keeps being extended--now BMG has issued a hybrid SACD of this classic.
What makes me even more grateful is that in 1954 making stereo tapes was an act of faith on the part of the engineers, who set up separate mikes for the mono version; there was no playback equipment yet devised for the home market that could play stereo LPs, and wouldn't be for several more years.
Of course it's the performance that counts most here, and Munch is light, spontaneous, and always careful to keep the music fresh. The fact that he doesn't turn the Symphonie fantastique into a sonic blockbuster is what makes the sound so delightful--we are never bludgeoned. I'm baffled by the description of Munch's approach as go-for-broke. The March to the Scaffold is, if anything, a bit understated, and the Witches' Sabbath, though spectral, doesn't strain for ghoulishly lurid effects.
In sum, I was as delighted with Munch's restraint as I was with the sound. A classic in the Berlioz discography.