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Between 1955 and 1979, Boston’s public television station WGBH televised more than one hundred and fifty live concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Four music directors were featured in the series – Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg and Seiji Ozawa –, as well as a dozen prominent guest conductors.
More than a hundred of these performances survive in the archives of the station and on the Boston Symphony. Because they exist in several generations of various media and have been surrounded by legal issues, access has been impossible even for researchers, let alone for the interested musical public.
Appointed to the Boston position in 1949, Charles Munch explored during his thirteen years as music director of the orchestra a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque (Bach was a particular passion) to the contemporary. He led sixty-eight world premieres or American premieres there, the last of them being Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”, while the composer looked on from the balcony. His greatest renown, however, came for his performances of French music by Berlioz, Debussy, Saint-Saëns and Ravel, as well as such living composers as Honegger, Roussel, Poulenc and Dutilleux. His activities as a recording conductor spanned more than three decades (1935-68), and some of the recordings of French repertoire that he made with the Boston Symphony Orchestra have sold steadily for fifty years and more and remain a permanent standard of reference.
This programme features a quintessentially French piece, the suite from Fauré’s incidental music for Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande, and excerpts from a definitive German work, Wagner’s Meistersinger, as well as the most German of “French” symphonies, Franck’s in D Minor. (Franck, of course, was Belgian, like Maeterlinck.) Charles Munch was Alsatian and fluent both in German and French languages and music. All of these pieces were in his active repertoire as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Wagner, The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (excerpts)
César Franck, Symphony in D Minor
3. Allegro non troppo
Gabriel Fauré, Pelléas et Mélisande, Suite for Orchestra Op. 80
1. Prélude: Quasi adagio
2. Andantino quasi allegretto
3. Sicilienne: Allegro molto moderato
4. Molto adagio
Directed by: Whitney Thomson, David M. Davis, Greg Harney
Venue: Sanders Theatre, Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Recording date: 1959, 1960, 1961
Duration: 1 h 10 min
Production: © Boston Symphony Orchestra & WGBH Educational Foundation under exclusive licence to International Classical Artists Ltd