Charles Munch rehearsing the BSO in another one of the weekly broadcasts NBC radio did in the late 1940s and early 1950s with this orchestra. Narrated by veteran broadcaster Ben Grauer, this weekly series offered a rare glimpse into the orchestra at work, with its sleeves rolled up, so to speak.
We listen to recordings or hear concerts and we hardly ever get to to hear the actual nuts and bolts of putting a performance together – how it often is wildly different than the formal presentations are. For one thing, I haven’t heard a rehearsal by just about any conductor who also doesn’t dabble in singing – sometimes at the top of their lungs and other times by low-pitched grunts. The legendary Arturo Toscanini was allegedly an avid participant in singing along with the orchestra during rehearsals – sometimes it was an interesting added attraction and with others it gave solid proof not everyone who was a musician could sing.
During the era of the 78, some particularly carried away conductors became part of the recorded history. One notable case was that of the legendary German conductor Leo Blech who, on some of his Victor/HMV recordings can be plainly heard grunting loudly along with strings and brass.
But a conductor getting carried away by the moment doesn’t detract from the fact that listening to an orchestra in the midst of intense rehearsals is a truly educational experience.
This rehearsal, actually splicing two rehearsals together to make a cohesive performance, features Albert Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariadne, followed by Debussy’s La Mer and ending with a portion of Brahms 4th symphony recorded on October 21st and 28th 1951.
If you haven’t had a chance to give these a listen, please do so – it’s fascinating stuff, particularly if you are studying an instrument and want to learn from the best.