on 16 January 2010
Saint Saens' organ symphony is a particular favourite of mine and, as such, I have listened to many different interpretations of it over the years. It's fair to say that this BSO/Munch recording is up there with the very best of them.
Originally recorded in 1959 as an RCA Stereo-Orthophonic release, it has been digitally re-mastered superbly and sounds fabulous with a wonderfully clean tone and broad dynamic range. There is minimal tape hiss, barely audible on all but the quietest passages at normal listening levels, which in no way detracts from the quality of the recording. This is a testament to just how good these early RCA stereo recordings are.
Charles Munch conducts the BSO with real gusto in this piece, creating a dramatic and thoroughly engaging work. The clarity and placement of each individual instrument and orchestral section is at times astonishing: something too often lost with some, but not all, of the newer all digital over-sanitised recordings. This has a proper 'organic' feel to it, as though you are there in person. The organ's presence is always felt when intended, as an integral part of the work, but not to the detriment of anything else as can be the case with this symphony. The underpinning in the quiet 2nd movement, for example, is the best I have heard and adds real warmth. Conversely, the organ blends beautifully with the full weight of the orchestra for the louder parts including the dramatic 4th movement. In summary, if you are looking for a powerful, full blooded account of this work, this CD comes highly recommended.
Also on this disc is Debussy's La Mer and Ibert's Escales, again BSO/Munch. I'm not overly familiar with either of these works so cannot fairly pass judgement on them VS other recordings. Again, they have both been restored from early RCA stereo recordings and sound clean and sweet. Regard these as a bonus.
This disc is a compilation of recordings made in 1956, (Debussy and Ibert), and 1959 (Saint Saens). The Saint Saens was a speciality of Munch and over the years I have owned three versions by him, all notably exciting. There was a Fontana label 10 inch LP with the NYPO and a Columbia recording before this one, recorded in stereo, with the Boston orchestra.
Over the years I have owned a number of alternative recordings in the belief or hope that a newer recording would have better sound and an exciting performance to match. This has proved not to be the case and Munch still reigns supreme. The question now remains, which compilation is best?
There was a Red Seal issue which definitely does not have the openness of sound of the Living Stereo version. However its couplings of the Poulenc organ concerto and Franck's Chasseur Maudit are invaluable for being the most exciting ever of the Franck and a particularly good Poulenc. The disc therefore stays in the collection.
There is also the SACD version of the Living Stereo disc that I bought a little while ago, which I was very disappointed with after checking via A/B comparisons, and subsequently passed on to a friend of mine without any regrets. The symphony was the least attractive of the three pieces in its SACD form and seemed inferior to the Living Stereo copy.
I have studied various reviewers' comments in some detail about the pluses and minuses of the SACD and Living Stereo versions and, with my own experience, have to agree with those who advise staying with the Living Stereo version.
The Ibert Escales, a rarity on disc, is generally well played with drive and commitment but suffers from relatively close miking and a lack of ambiance and a rather dry acoustic.
The Debussy has the important and totally effective extra brass triplets heard clearly at the end of the last movement. These add greatly to the excitement and are rarely included - the Reiner version also has them, and it is a mystery to me why no-one else has remarked about this important point on either disc.
Generally one would not choose a Munch recording expecting sensitive subtleties of interpretation. Munch is more about the broader canvas, excitement, drive and thrills. He had an orchestra that could deliver these and that is what we get on this disc.
I would suggest that the disc's longevity in the catalogues is testament to its considerable appeal and would therefore advise that it should be seriously as a strong purchase option, especially for the Saint Saens. As to whether to choose SACD or Living Stereo - that seems to be an area of continuing dispute and all I can do is suggest that purchasers should do as I did and read those conflicting opinions. I bought the SACD version but kept hold of the Living Stereo version just in case, and I am glad that I did!
on 25 April 2011
I bought this CD for the organ symphony, as it is the recommendation of the "1001 classical recordings you must hear before you die" It arrived and I put it on to play. Within 5 minutes, I realised I could not do it justice on my system, without causing a riot in the other flats. I took it to a friend who has a similar Quad system to my own, and who was fortunately without neighbours at the time, and let it rip. Gosh, the power of this 1959(I think) recording is on a par with the Minneapolis SO's recording of the 1812 Overture. The windows rattled during the sustained pedal note in the finale. We had to tone it down for we feared for the foundations. Notwithstanding the power, the performance is superb, the Boston was probably at its best during the period when the recording was initially made, and this is a good example of their class.
The remaining works are: Debussy, La mer, another favourite of mine, and Ibert, Escales, which was new to me.
on 24 June 2012
My vinyl copyis nearly worn out so this replacement on cd suprised me the sound still has a wonderful balance and wears its years really well,the organ has the best deep bass of any,the performance has depth precision great warmth and still rates as one the best of all time!