During his thirtheen years as music director in Boston, Charles Munch explored a wide range of repertoire from de Baroque (Bach was a particular passion) to the contemporary. Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2 entered the repertoire of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in its first season in 1881, and the orchestra has since played it frequently under twenty-five different conductors, including most of the music directors from Sir George Henschel to James Levine. Charles Munch greatly admired the work and programmed it in four different Boston Symphony Orchestra seasons.
Like all conductors who love Schumann, Munch was partial to the overture to the composer's only opera Genoveva. Schumann composed the overture before he had even finished working on the libretto, so it is not a summary of the themes of the opera; instead it is a kind of poem that summons up Genoveva's dark and emotional landscape and atmosphere. Munch's reading of the overture is higly dramatic and theatrical, and it is visibly clear that he enjoys working up a head in this music.
Schubert's Fifth Symphony is a breezy and cheerful work that Munch led to Boston, at Tanglewood, and on tour in the 1961-1962 season. Munch's approach to this work is genial: at one moment he doesn't even conduct, but he lets the players take over, and he obviously delights in the music as much as the musicians and the audience do.
© Richard Dyer
Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1959-1961
Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1958-1959