Charles Münch

Charles Munch in New York

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For fans of Charles Münch, this Music & Arts disc will present a fascinating snapshot of the Alsatian-born conductor of the Boston Symphony in highly unusual circumstances: one of the last performances of the NBC Symphony. The orchestra's usual conductor, the 87-year-old but still volatile Arturo Toscanini, had recently been informed NBC was canceling his show after his April broadcast, and he abruptly decided to sit out his next scheduled appearance on March 28, 1954. The call went out and Münch stepped in with a program of French favorites: Debussy's Iberia, Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin, and Roussel's Bacchus et Ariane Suite No. 2. Though they didn't know each other and would never met again, the one encounter between Munch and the NBC Symphony was obviously exciting and satisfying for both conductor and orchestra. Like kids on a spree, the NBC Symphony plays with terrific excitement and tremendous verve, but because it was Toscanini's orchestra, the playing is still clean and precise. And like a young man on a first date, Münch conducts with restrained but manifest passion, but his interpretations are models of clarity and probity. Though the restoration by Andrew Rose is probably as good as can be hoped for considering source, the sound here is understandably flat and gray. But for Münch fans, the performances will surely be worth it, moreso since the conductor never commercially recorded Le tombeau de Couperin. As what is now called a "bonus track," Music & Arts includes a thrilling performance of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 with Münch conducting the New York Philharmonic in concert on January 2, 1949.

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