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MONTEUX (1875-1964): BBC LEGENDS SERIES
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Overture: Anacréon (1803) [10.04]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major Op.55 Eroica (1803) [45.52]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Tone poem: Don Juan Op.20 (1889) [16.46]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Rákóczy March from Le Damnation de Faust Op.24 (1845) [4.23]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Monteux (conductor)
Rec BBC Studios, London 25 Jan 1960, 12 Nov 1960, Milton Hall, Manchester 21 Dec 1960, and Kingsway Hall, London 15 Dec 1961 respectively.
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4112-2 [77.56]
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This series is undoubtedly of the greatest archival value and interest to the collector, but one must keep a sense of proportion in judging the performances preserved for posterity, for not all of them are consistently of the highest standard. Of the four works listed here it is unsurprising that the best playing is in the last, written by Monteux's compatriot Berlioz. It was in French music that this vitally important conductor, a protagonist in so many of the 20th century's most historical musical events (such as the 1913 premiere in Paris of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and the music of Debussy and Ravel) was at his best. It is also the best of the three featured orchestras, and puts the other two well into the shade, with some woefully inadequate oboe playing in both of them.

Monteux was one of the best examples of a conductor enjoying an Indian summer and producing amazingly youthful interpretations despite his great age, whereas most of the rest (Boult, Klemperer, Stokowski to name but three) could not match him. The twinkle in his eye, his genuine popularity among players (though whether he generated that when he was fifty rather than eighty is a moot point, for most conductors automatically get brownie points simply for having survived so long), and above all, his modesty all contribute to sparkling accounts from the 'Maître', as he was known. The face was largely hidden by the walrus moustache, but the eyes always twinkled, the body barely moving in unostentatious fashion on the podium, but there was also his supreme mastery of stick technique.

He would not be my first choice for the German masters but his Beethoven has a sense of measured architectural sweep, particularly in the Eroica which was one of his special favourites, while his Strauss gets to the heart of the vivid orchestration, avoiding turgid textures in his translucent approach, each episode of the lover's life clearly defined. Cherubini's overture gets off to a sluggish start before finding the Monteux sparkle.

Christopher Fifield


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