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Pierre Monteux
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1904)

Scheherezade, symphonic suite, Op.35
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No.1; Alborada del gracioso; La Valse
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
Recorded 1941 (La Valse), 1942 (Scheherezade), 1946 (Daphnis et Chloé) and 1947 (Alborada del gracioso)
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0213 [69.44]

All of these performances formed part of RCA’s extensive 15 CD Monteux edition, one that allowed greater appreciation of his San Franciscan tenure. The centrepiece is Scheherezade, with the orchestra’s leader Naoum Blinder as the spellbinding violinist. The recording is notable for the cut and thrust of Monteux’s conducting, the driving, forward-moving tempi he adopts and the symphonic cohesion of his conception. Solos are generally excellent, if not quite stellar – and there are a few passing moments of awry horn tuning in the first movement. Blinder has a quick, tight vibrato capable of considerable allure and the recording highlights, graphically, his powers of projection and personality. Not for nothing had he made solo discs and – a nice touch – Archipel prints a photograph of him in their otherwise hair-shirt booklet. Monteux’s performance here might surprise those unfamiliar with his tenure of this orchestra as well as those who only know his 1960s discs – he encourages brassy stentorian playing in the last movement, fierce percussion; it’s never raucous or unmusical, though, even if there were moments in the third movement when he does tend to drive when greater rewards might have accrued through subtle relaxation of tempi. All in all though a high voltage reading in rather up-front sound.

That his Ravel should be so convincing won’t come as much of a surprise. La Valse is wonderfully controlled in every respect – the famed Monteux rhythm much in evidence again and achieved through a superb series of rubati. Alborada del gracioso is evocative, colourful and crisp as well. We end with Suite No.1 from Daphnis et Chloé, a work of which Monteux gave the premiere. There’s no doubt in my mind that few understood Debussy better than Monteux and if his later remakes of these and other works were impressive documents, there’s an added frisson and drive to these readings that I find irresistible. The only drawback is the relative blatancy of the recordings.

Archipel clearly haven’t used original source material but have tended to over process whatever CD – maybe RCA’s - they’ve located. I don’t really like the result – it’s too compressed and I’d advise seeking out the RCA transfers. But Monteux’s performances are a must-have.

Jonathan Woolf


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