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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
If you had the good luck to hear Charles Munch in performance, this book will have some appeal. In its favor is the thorough coverage D. Kern Holoman gives to Munch's career and the many names that appear along the way, including Albert Schweitzer, Honegger, Dutilleux, Poulenc, and others. Much time is spent on his spontaneity in concert and his lack of interest in rehearsal. He is portrayed as a charismatic but shy man who came alive on stage; an art collector, a generous colleague and friend, and a man of some considerable courage. The book is well researched, as well. And yet...
The sadness and loneliness that Munch experienced are not explained and the author admits as much. Nor does he do more than describe the outward aspects of Munch's marriage to a rich, intelligent, somewhat older but infirm woman who helped finance the early portion of his conducting career, but with whom Munch might never have consummated the marriage. Apparently the conductor had numerous extra-marital affairs, some long lasting, making the conductor's personal life look a little bit like that of Don Draper, the protagonist in "Mad Men."
Perhaps more importantly, Munch's ability to achieve hair-raising musical results is not really explained. Within the body of the text there is little critical analysis of Munch's recordings. For myself, many of these recordings paled in comparison with Munch's electric renditions in the concert hall. The best explanation I ever heard of this had to do with the conductor's spontaneity: since multiple "takes" were required in the studio, Munch supposedly had to rein himself in during recording sessions so that he could produce consistent results in terms of tempo, etc. In a public concert, by contrast, Munch was unpredictable, with no two performances being quite the same.
Despite multiple heart attacks and other illnesses going back many years, Munch pushed himself to do his work to the end of his life. To some extent, perhaps, it was a "mission," to some extent an "addiction" (suggested at one point by Holoman); perhaps in part it was simply doing something he loved and in which he lost himself. Whatever it was, his capacity to communicate from the stage was second to no one I heard in a lifetime of concert going that included virtually all the great conductors from 1964 to the present.
Until and unless someone else takes on the job of writing Munch's biography, we must be grateful to Mr. Holoman for what he was able to accomplish here. Perhaps what he could not express was due to the elusiveness of his subject. In the meantime, we have the recordings and especially the growing list of DVDs, to tell us in music and images, not words, what made Munch special. To the good, discographical material and many video clips are present on a companion website.
There are a few errors. Leinsdorf, Munch's successor with the Boston Symphony, lasted more than the five years Holoman gives him credit for. Does Roussel's Bacchus & Ariadne have a chorus? If so, I've never heard a recording or performance that includes it, as the author indicates. (Please see Mr. Holoman's comment below for more information on this question). Nor was Kurt Sanderling a member of the Leningrad Philharmonic, but one of its chief conductors. One pet irritation: Holoman frequently uses French phrases without translating them.