It really does take
quite a lot to leave me dumbfounded,
but this disc succeeded in no uncertain
terms. Clearly a vehicle for Victor
Emanuel Count Dijon of Monteton (to
give him his full title: www.monteton.com),
this particular Wunderkind (piano
lessons at three-and-a-half; age of
eight Germany’s youngest high school
pupil, etc), does have a technique of
sorts. Unfortunately it is clearly no
match for Beethoven’s own on the strength
of this recording.
While the Academy of
St Martin’s is its normal, musical self,
it does sound rather like there is a
certain amount of going through the
motions going on here. All the cleanliness
and clarity one would expect is there
(Marriner has lost none of his talent
in this regard), but this is routine
at best. From Monteton’s very first
note one can guess why. The piano’s
initial anacrusis is left hanging in
mid air, with nothing to do. Instead
of leading naturally to the first beat
of the next bar, it just sits there,
exuding no energy or momentum whatsoever.
In fact, it almost acts as Monteton’s
entire interpretative stance in microcosm.
Arpeggios are literal. Monteton is crowded
by Beethoven’s demands (a kind way of
saying he really shouldn’t be playing
this, not on public release, anyway).
He is often literal and bangy; staccati
have no point to them (in either sense
of the word). As for the cadenza, there
is no wit or cheekiness – even Pollini
(whose pianistic jokes one could fit
on the back of a postage stamp) scores
with the ‘surprise’ end to the cadenza.
in the second movement are cleanly executed,
but hardly involving. A curious effect
is that, as the piano texture gets thicker,
the excitement the listener feels remains
absolutely constant, tending towards
zero. This is an amateur playing with
professionals and given generally, top-flight
engineering. Towards the end of the
movement, one almost wills Monteton
to melt into the music, yet he steadfastly
refuses. The clarinet, so important
in this movement, sounds recessed (perhaps
because this is The Monteton Show).
The finale is hardly jaunty. Syncopations
emerge as laboured, when they should
raise a life-affirming smile. ‘Lacklustre’
sums up the entire experience. When
the end comes, it is a relief.
Take a break (you’ll
need one). After that, what was to become
of the beloved ‘Emperor’?.
It really is quite
an achievement to make the first movement
of the ‘Emperor’ seem tedious, but in
this respect one must congratulate Monteton.
Although the opening flourishes promise
at least something, even there the staccato
touch has a false edge to it. Perhaps
this is the key – so much sounds as
if a teacher had told him to play things
this way or that, and Monteton has not
the first clue as to why. A flowing
orchestral exposition gives the listener
something to enjoy (at least it is not
anti-Beethoven) before Monteton loses
impetus, life and excitement. The admittedly
difficult passage at around 6’58 (which
does defeat many a pianist) is plodding
(the tempo helps him to get the notes).
The octave passage (around 11’-11’30)
is horribly literal, with no melting
into the ensuing passage of transcendent
No surprises in the
slow movement. After a nicely shaped
introduction, our pianist interrupts
the magical descents by stabbing at
notes. True, there are some moments
of peace, but the transition to the
third movement (surely one of the most
beautiful passages in all music) suffers
from a too-loud and plonky left hand,
and to cap it all there is an horrendous
edit at the very beginning of the finale
(has it been stuck together with sellotape?
I thought we had digital editing these
days). Monteton ploughs his way through
the finale with no hint of visceral
excitement. The passage at 6’50 is really
quite remarkable: here is Monteton caught
in the practice room!.
At the end there is
a palpable feeling of relief that the
experience is over. Lots to say about
this disc, then, but virtually none
of it positive.
Initially, I was dumbfounded,
but I now seem to have found a voice.
This disc enjoys the privilege of being
one of the worst I have heard for many