Monday, January 17, 2005

Munch's Symphonie: Bad is good and good is bad and never the twain shall meet

I thought I'd try it again after several years to make sure my mind wasn't playing tricks on me. It wasn't

The recording at hand is the CD issue of Charles Munch's famous recording of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, the older (1954), more famous recording. For some reason, on which I can only speculate, all digital and analog reissues of this recording have sounded deadly dull, opaque, lifeless, and lacking in high frequency extension. All but one.

The only one that lived up to its reputation as one of the classic RCA Living Stereo recordings was...get this*...the original CD release of the mid-'80s.

Smile and say "cheese!"

That release came packaged with the Munch recording of the Berlioz Requiem, almost as filler, really--the headline item was the Requiem, not the Symphonie. The latter was there to flesh out the second CD.

Well, let me tell you, folks, my ears weren't deceiving me--it still sounds great, far, far greater than either the Living Stereo CD, the version on the 8-disc "Munch Conducts Berlioz" box set, or even the Classic LP reissue, oh, surprise of surprises. For all I know (I don't), it may be the best-sounding issue of this recording ever to see the light of day.

The variable here apparently is source material: the source tapes used for the original CD transfer are more lively, more extended on top, more extended on bottom, more of just about everything that gives a recording a sense of life. They breathe.

Black mark? Yes, of course, there's always one, isn't there? There's a very severe tape dropout on the right channel that intermittently plauges this release throughout. As for why this tape was never again apparently used for any subsequent reissues, this may well be the smoking gun. There's also some prominent tape hiss. Can I live with all this in the interest of better sound down the road apiece? You betcha.

My guess is that the tape used for this initial CD set may have been several generations down from the studio master--a production or protection copy of some kind, as was often the case with the original CD releases of the '80s. These were often "thrown together" out of whatever tape sources the engineers could lay their hands on. In this case, by some bizarre happy accident, the "bad" tapes were good and the good tapes were...bad.

Long live the bad tapes.


* Literally, if you can. Frankly, I couldn't even find a scan of the mid-'80s CD cover art on the net. As you can see by his expression in the mug shots, Berlioz isn't too damned happy about it either.

Hector Berlioz or Monty Python cartoon man?


At 4:01 AM, Blogger Corgan Sow said...

Dude, that's a trippy cover man! I wish I could get that recording since I only have the 1957 recording.

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