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Pierre Monteux in France - 1952-58 Concert Performances
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Petrushka (1911 version) [35:22] – Paris, 8 May 1958 and Paris, 9 June 1955
Le Sacre du Printemps (1910) [34:18] – Strasbourg, 17 June 1955
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Le coq d’or (1906-07) [7:59] – Paris, 8 May 1958
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor Op.125 "Choral" (1824) [68:06] – Paris, 6 or 8 November 1958
with Maria Stader (soprano)  Helene Bouvier (alto) Libero de Luca (tenor), Josef Greindl (bass)
Symphony No.2 in D major Op. 36 (1807) [30:59] - Paris, 3 May 1956
Symphony No.7 in A Major Op. 92 (1812)  [35:43] - Strasbourg 13 June 1952
Symphony No.8 in F Major, Op.93  (1812) [26:38] - Strasbourg, 17 June 1955
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) 
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C K. 491
Robert Casadesus, piano, Montreux, 22 September 1958
Violin Con. No. 5 in A, K. 219, ‘Turkish’ [30:23]
Annie Jodry (violin) - Strasbourg, 17 June 1955
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1890-1953)
Symphony No.1 Op.25 ‘Classical’  (1917) [14:33] - Paris, 8 May 1958
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Nobilissima Visione (1938) [20:43] - Paris, 8 November 1958
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images  (1905-08) [34:40] - Paris, 3 May 1956
Jeux — Poème dansé (1912) [17:59] - Paris, 9 June 1955
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Shéhérazade (1903) [15:06] 
Germaine Moysan, (soprano) - Strasbourg, 13 June 1952
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
La Sultane [7:33] arranged Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974) - Paris, 8 November 1958
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Pines of Rome (1924) [20:12] - Paris, 3 May 1956
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Tod und Verklärung (1889) [23:28] - Paris, 3 May 1956
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in E, Op.64 (1888) [44:52] - Paris, 8 May 1958
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Variations on an Original Theme (‘Enigma’) Op.36 (1899) [27:57] - Paris, 24 September 1958
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Flying Dutchman Overture (1843) [9:32] - Paris, 9 June 1955
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D Minor (1886-8) [38:16] - Paris, 24 September 1958
Orchestre National de France (Orchestre National de la RTF)/Pierre Monteux
MUSIC AND ARTS CD 1182 [8 CDs: 77:43 + 68:06 + 74:39 + 77:46 + 75:15 + 79:22 + 72:50 + 47:50]

Music & Arts has now made another vast contribution to Monteux studies with this new collection. Its San Francisco box set Sunday Evenings with Pierre Monteux is a vast thirteen CD epic of incalculable interest, though I did attempt to calculate it on this site both in its original 10 CD set and in the expanded fuller edition (see review). This further offering gives us French concert performances made between 1952 and 1958. The news is pretty much all good. The sound is very, very much better than the Horenstein box set, devoted to that conductor’s Parisian performances and issued by M&A. True, the repertoire duplicates works that Monteux recorded, sometimes multiply, but there are eight pieces entirely new to his discography and that constitutes a major act of reclamation in itself. Additionally a number of the performances do shed a new slant on those familiar (or less familiar) commercial discs either in subtly reinforcing his sheer consistency of approach or allowing one to reflect on processes of absorption of his ideas by different orchestras.

One such opportunity is afforded by the Elgar Enigma Variations. Some are not as keen on the LSO recording as others; it happens to be my favourite. Contours in Paris are broadly similar to the recording made in the same year, 1958, and one can sense Monteux’s underlying mastery of its structure. The orchestra sounds less sure. Some of the variations are more palpably etched though that’s not always an advantage. The winds are less athletic than their London rivals, Nimrod doesn’t begin with a hushed pianissimo or crest so nobly; EDU is played rather garishly and untidily – and elsewhere things can occasionally become metrical. Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony shares disc space with the Elgar. He makes some metrical adjustments but generates plenty of lyric intensity and vitality within accepted expressive limits despite the broadening of the second subject - in which he was of course hardly unique. This is a reading that offers a symphonic structure that remains warm without mannerism or overtly interventionist manipulation.

Monteux and Stravinsky - it goes without saying. Petrushka is a composite. The bulk derives from May 1958 but the Third Tableau comes from a Paris performance of June 1955. One wouldn’t otherwise know. The sectional balancing here is fine, textures are well delineated and the playing is knowing and affirmative. The Rite of Spring was taped a week after the 1955 Strasbourg performance of the Third Tableau and it has a few rough edges in the brass section. But Monteux, who never went in for artifice, sheen or superficiality brings tremendous finesse. And if there is rhythmic imprecision in the second part the performance is never less than timbrally revealing.

Beethoven is represented by four symphonies. No.2. is vigorous and successful – it lacks a first movement exposition but sports a warmly phrased slow movement. The finale has wind lines answered in brisk fashioned by the incisive string choirs, buoyed up by Monteux’s spruce and no-nonsense rhythmic attack. The Seventh was taped in Strasbourg in 1952 and offers even greater rewards – noble directness and a straightforward and yet notably subtle command of colour. The Allegretto has a forward moving gravity that never sounds at all breathless and develops a powerful eloquence. The only quibble in the reading would concern the rather studied trio section of the scherzo. Monteux apparently referred to No.8 as the “Symphony of the Basses.” It’s a reading chockfull of wit and sly humour – not a performance that seeks to assert the Eighth as an overlooked monolith – and one that fully reaps the benefit of naturalness of phrasing and proportion. The Ninth was recorded in the same year as his commercial recording and this live traversal is, surely unsurprisingly, very similar indeed, both in terms of proportion and contour – the movements “time” almost exactly. Monteux maintains a prudent balance between tensile extroversion and a sensitive unfolding of melodic strands. Vocally he has Josef Greindl on powerful though somewhat stentorian form – with a wide vibrato to match.  Maria Stader is commanding but a touch strident. Helene Bouvier and Libero de Luca do well.

The two Mozart performances show us Monteux the accompanist. At the start the sound is swishy but Casadesus is on characteristically sensitive and long-breathed form in K491. His phrasing is elegant and his legato spun with splendid control. The orchestral winds however have other ideas and their idiosyncratic tone makes for a clash of cultures. Monteux meanwhile summons up Janissary drama for the slow movement. In K219, the Fourth Violin Concerto, the soloist is Annie Jodry whose intonation is suspect, tone rather thin but whose slides are tasteful.

The Prokofiev Classical Symphony is buoyant, avuncular and full of high jinks. Monteux rightly avoids portentousness. There’s a terrific performance of Hindemith’s Nobilissima Visione where he conveys palpable depth of feeling even at relatively bracing tempi – indeed through the use of such driving tempos. The conductor proves as adept at the march rhythms of the second movement as he does in unfolding its gravely warm ensuing pastorale. Similar control enlivens the finale – alternately trenchant and lyrical.

He takes Debussy’s Images at quite a lick. This jaunty but never superficial reading brings vivid and characterful playing. Monteux’s malleable but sharp rhythmic awareness fuses with moments of sensuousness (solo violin) and acidic drama  (Iberia II) to produce a reading of élan and disciplined brilliance. Since he premiered Jeux but never recorded it commercially its presence here is highly desirable, to put it mildly. He conducts with penetrating insight – teeming with detail and incident and forthright in its emotive candour.  Ravel’s Shéhérazade is with Germaine Moysan; a preferred soloist was Monteux’s niece Ginia Davis though his well-known commercial recording was given with de los Angeles. Moysan though sings with high intelligence and fine tone. This all-French disc ends with a Stokowski-esque riot in the shape of the Couperin-Milhaud, also new to the Monteux discography. There’s no excuse for this – just great fun.

I wasn’t quite sure how Monteux would respond to Respighi’s Pines of Rome but I needn’t have worried. Whatever relative limitations there may be about the sound and also concerning the rather un-opulent orchestral playing are swept away by the vitality of Monteux’s conducting. True, the trumpet principal’s vibrato will be too florid for many and tidiness is not the name of the ensemble game but there’s excitement here a-plenty. Monteux was a fine but underused Straussian and he proves so again in Tod und Verklärung – a performance without idiosynbcracies but with plenty of humanity and a sure ear for the climax of a phrase.

Wagner was one of Monteux’s two favourite composers – the other of course was Brahms, a fact he often used to tax those who insisted he reprise his Franck or Stravinsky. His Dutchman is bedevilled by some weak orchestral playing but is otherwise splendidly virile. He often professed to be bored by the Franck Symphony and left behind multiple recordings of it, the best of the three being the one made in Chicago. This Paris perfomance however is biting and controlled; and if its power is perhaps not quite matched by orchestral finesse, then there are compensations in hearing once more Monteux’s control of line in this work so closely associated with him.

John Canarina, Monteux’s pupil and biographer, has contributed excellent and extensive notes. Anyone remotely interested in the Mâitre will now need both M&A sets which are complementary and shed important light on each other. I’m sorry for your finances but not for the musical enjoyment you will receive.

Jonathan Woolf



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