Franck: Symphony In D, D'Indy, Berlioz / Monteux, Munch

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The D minor Symphony is a difficult work to bring off in performance. Its sprawling first movement contains a large restatement of material in slow tempo, and there are hard-to-gauge transitions in all three movements. The unfolding needs to have a sense of mystery about it, but also exert a real grip; the interpreter has to evoke a complex emotional scenario of dark and light, turbulence and confidence, introversion and extroversion, reverence and ecstasy – an utterly ambivalent mix. While a stodgy or insincere performance can make the work sound like mere exercise – and also make it easy for a listener to understand how Gounod could disparage the score – a committed one can make the sun shine.

Monteux was 85 at the time he made this recording of the symphony, and it is immediately clear from listening that his technique had deteriorated to the point that the Chicago players really had to be on their toes. The first movement’s opening pages are very deliberate, almost groping; the ensemble is not good in places, as though the beat were somewhat imprecise. But once the long buildup begins, remarkable things start to happen. One feels that a slumbering giant is coming to life. The Allegro takes off at a fierce clip – again the Chicagoans seem momentarily caught off guard – and from there on the performance simply cooks. Part of Monteux’s secret is the way he animates the accompanimental tremolos and ostinati that fill the score and can sound like so much wallpaper unless they are brought to life. The sound is remarkably fine except for some tape saturation in the loudest passages, where the treble gets grainy and the image loses some of its depth; in the soft and medium dynamics, the tone is exquisite. There is good presence and atmosphere on the remastered CD, and the coupling of the Munch accounts of works by D’Indy and Berlioz is excellent. – Ted Libbey, author of The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection.

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 12, 2008

  • Catalog Number: RCA6805

  • UPC: 078635680522

  • Label: RCA

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: César Franck, Hector Berlioz, Vincent D'Indy

  • Conductor: Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer