Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (XRCD review)

Also, Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished." Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24027.

I have to admit, conductor Munch's Beethoven did not move me very much. It probably has something to do with the 800 other recordings of the Fifth Symphony currently available, but it may also have something to do with the interpretation being rather plain and unadorned. After hearing such electric performances over the years as those from Carlos Kleiber (DG) and Fritz Reiner (RCA and JVC) and such authoritative ones as those from Karl Bohm (DG) and Simon Rattle (EMI), it's hard to get too excited about so straightforward and conventional a reading as Munch's sounds.

On the other hand, the companion piece, Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony gets excellent treatment.  Indeed, Munch produces one the finest recordings of this work I have heard. It is neither too lax and yielding nor too hard-driven or overbearing. Munch delivers a performance that is smooth and refined, to be sure, but passionate as well and strongly committed. The Allegro has all the forward drive one could want without being at all pushy, and the Andante is gentle, relaxed, and glittering with sensitivity and beauty.

Of course, the reason some people with deep pockets buy products in JVC's XRCD audiophile series is because they can expect some of the best possible sound from the best possible source material, and again the JVC engineers do not disappoint. The old, 1955 stereo sonics, originally recorded by RCA, have a strong dynamic thrust and a clarity that makes most of today's digital reproduction seem flabby by comparison. There is a small degree of brightness in the first strings and a touch of tape hiss audible in quieter passages, but such distractions are largely insignificant.

The question remains whether it is worth the high asking price of the JVC disc for essentially a single great performance lasting less than twenty-four minutes. That decision I can't answer for you. And with equally good performances of the Schubert "Unfinished" from conductors like Eugen Jochum (DG import), Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG), Otto Klemperer (EMI), Charles Mackerras (Telarc), and Erik Jacobsen (Ancalagon) at about half the price, the choice is even harder.


No comments:

Post a Comment

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa