C0813. PIERRE MONTEUX Cond. Boston S.O.: Le Sacre du Printemps; Petrushka (3 Jan., 1958); Petrushka Suite (28 Jan., 1955) (all Stravinsky); Istar Variations Symphoniques (d’Indy); Enigma Variations (Elgar); The Hebrides Overture (Mendelssohn); Surprise Symphony #94 in G (Haydn); The Great Symphony #9 in C (Schubert); Rhenish Symphony #3 in E-flat (Schumann); Parsifal – Prelude; Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Rhine Journey; Funeral Music (both Wagner); Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien – Excerpt; Images pour Orchestre – Gigues; Jeux (all Debussy); w.Roman Totenberg: Violin Concerto #1 (Szymanowski); w.Tossy Spivakovsky: Violin Concerto #2 (Bartók); Classical Symphony in D (Prokofiev); Symphony #5 in e; Mozartiana Suite #4 in G – Mvt. IV; Hamlet – Fantasy Overture; Pathétique Symphony #6 in b; Symphony #4 in f; w.Vera Franceschi: Concert Fantasy in G (all Tchaikovsky). (E.U.) 8-West Hill Radio Archives WHRA 6022, Live Performances, 1951-58, all Symphony Hall, Boston. Transfers by Maggi Payne. Specially priced. - 5425008376684
"A treasure-trove indeed, especially for all admirers of Pierre Monteux – eight CDs (selling for the price of six) of Boston Symphony Orchestra concert performances given between 1951 and 1958 in Symphony Hall. This set includes a mouth-watering selection of repertoire, some familiar to Monteux’s discography (but not in these versions, everything here is “previously unpublished”) and introducing pieces new to it. The sound throughout is excellent – full-bodied, well-balanced mono that has been re-mastered to the highest standards by Maggi Payne.
The first disc makes for a very enjoyable programme. Indeed Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony and Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major both come from a February 1956 concert, in which Paul Creston's Second was also performed. (There are three complete concerts altogether albeit dispersed over the discs.) The Haydn is bustling and muscular, and the Schubert begins in stately fashion before becoming high-energy; the ‘slow’ movement is furtive and belted-through, the scherzo (without any repeats) exciting and incisive. In context, the finale is quite measured, ending resoundingly. Not the only way to do it, but there is a real thrill to this performance caught on the wing. The overture to this collection is Mendelssohn’s ‘The Hebrides’, an atmospheric account from April 1957.
The second disc includes Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony (1955) and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth (1957). The Schumann begins ebulliently without being rushed – this is a noble account full of sunshine – before the character-pieces that form the middle triptych of movements steal in, each unaffected but meaningful. The finale enjoys a relaxed gait. The Tchaikovsky, which Monteux and the Bostonians recorded commercially (as they did the Fourth and ‘Pathétique’ symphonies, and they are in this West Hill collection, too) is quite volatile, and viscerally passionate; confidential, too, at times, such as at the opening of the second movement, which is granted a quite beautiful and inward horn solo.
The ‘Pathétique’ (1955) receives an intense and, in the outer movements, quite a spacious reading (the whole being two minutes longer than on the RCA version, John Canarina advises in his booklet note). The Fourth (1958) isn’t quite the “whirlwind performance” that Canarina describes. The opening fanfare tumbles forward a bit, though, yet there is weighty consideration before the movement gets going, somewhat emptily it must be said, albeit with some beguiling ballet-like interjections. The pizzicato scherzo isn’t quite as nifty as Canarina believes, and the finale is noisy rather than triumphal.
Some relative rarities of Tchaikovsky are also included (all from 4 February 1955, the concert that culminated with the ‘Pathétique’): ‘Hamlet’, then the finale (‘Theme and Variations’) from Suite No.4 (‘Mozartiana’), which is slightly cut, as is Concert Fantasy, if rather more so, with Vera Franceschi as the piano soloist. She plays with brilliance and rippling delicacy.
Other concerto collaborations include Tossy Spivakovsky in Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (1954), a rather subdued account at times, Spivakovsky brightening for more demonstrative passages (and arguably too fast in the finale) but looking deeply into introspective sections. With Roman Totenberg as soloist, Monteux conducts Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No.1 (1955). He and Totenberg find the music’s exoticism and line in just balance, the violinist’s silvery tone and chiselled agility ideal for this music.
Wagner and Debussy are collected from a December 1951 concert and includes a gloriously expansive if rather overloud Prelude to Act One of ‘Parsifal’. Two ‘bleeding chunks’ from ‘Götterdämmerung’ are included as are Debussy’s ‘Gigues’ and ‘Jeux’, and both are authoritative.
The ‘Sacre du P_rintemps’
The ‘Sacre du Printemps’ is a performance that has much to teach us about pacing the work (which Monteux premiered). Vincent D’Indy’s ‘Istar’ (1956) has its magical qualities revealed lovingly.
There are two “original stereo” recordings (re-mastered by Aaron Z. Snyder), from a 3 January 1958 concert (which ended with the Tchaikovsky Fourth included here, but that is mono). Both offer good two-channel, quite close-up (vividly revealing Monteux's use of antiphonal violins). Monteux had innate and inside knowledge of Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ (in 1911 he had conducted the world premiere of the staged ballet, and this set also includes a ‘Suite’ – of Monteux’s choice? – performed in 1955). In particular, tempos (for the most part) are thoroughly convincing, Monteux sticking with the original scoring (it seems that once Stravinsky had revised the orchestration of ‘Petrushka’ in 1947 he granted permission to only two conductors to continue to use the 1911 version, one was Monteux, the other was Ernest Ansermet). The other ‘stereo’ is Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony, the first movement rushed along to no advantage, the remaining ones more convincingly paced.
Certainly Monteux admirers will not hesitate and will be gratified at the excellence of the source material, the skill with which it is presented, and the insight of the annotation."
- Colin Anderson, CLASSICALSOURCE.COM
"Pierre Monteux had one of the longest musical careers in memory, exceeded perhaps only by Pablo Casals and Leopold Stokowski. He retained a youthful appearance (and a full head of black hair!) well into old age, and he was well loved by colleagues and audiences alike.
He started violin studies at the age of six and then entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9. He made his conducting début in Paris at the age of 12. He was a co-winner of the first prize for violin in 1896, with the great violinist Jacques Thibaud. He served as principal violist in the Opéra-Comique, and was also assistant conductor and concertmaster of the Concerts Colonne. In 1894 he joined the Quatuor Geloso as a violist and was priviledged to participate in the performance of a Brahms quartet in the composer's presence. In 1908 he became conductor of the Orchestre du Casino in Dieppe and in 1911 founded a series called the Concerts Berlioz. In the same year, he began a historic association when he was hired by Diaghilev to conduct his Ballets Russes. He led the premieres of Ravel's DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ, Debussy's JEUX, and Stravinsky's PETRUSHKA and RITE OF SPRING, the last of which caused a notorious audience riot.
In 1914, when war broke out, he was called to military service. He received a discharge in 1916 and travelled to the United States, where he obtained a conducting post at the Metropolitan Opera that lasted until 1919. At that point he was engaged to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Taking up the post in 1920, he walked into a labor dispute, with his musicians on strike; by the time the strike was settled, the concertmaster and 30 other musicians had left. Monteux had to rebuild the orchestra - a difficult task, but an opportunity for Monteux to mold the orchestra according to his own taste; ever since then, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has been known for its French sound and its expertise in French and Russian repertoire. He remained in Boston through 1924, gaining a reputation as a supporter of modern music. He brought to America not only Stravinsky and the French composers, but such others as Respighi, Vaughan Williams, and Honegger.
In 1924 he began a ten year association with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. He was a good fit with the orchestra's other conductor, Willem Mengelberg, who had a Romantic-era style, and who specialized in traditional repertoire and Dutch composers. In addition, Monteux founded the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris in 1929, and the École Monteux, a coaching school for young conductors in 1932.
In 1936 he returned to the United States as conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, staying in that position through the 1952 season. During World War II he obtained American citizenship and transferred his École Monteux to his new hometown of Hancock, Maine, where Erich Kunzel, Neville Marriner, and André Previn were among his students. He guest conducted and recorded extensively, and in 1961, at the age of eighty-six, accepted the musical directorship of the London Symphony Orchestra.
RCA Victor recorded him extensively in stereo, not only in Debussy, Ravel, Milhaud, Stravinsky, and the like, but also in Beethoven and Brahms; Monteux was especially noted for his performances of these composers' music, to which he brought an unusual charm and lyrical quality. He strove for transparency of sound, precision, light and springy rhythms, and that elegance that seems particularly associated with French music."
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com