RCA's Living Stereo
recordings were always legendary for their high fidelity sound.
In this new DSD remastering - heard as a stereo disc rather than as an SACD
- these recordings sound better than ever. There’s a real top-to-bottom
clarity that belies the age of the master tapes. According
to the liner notes, the SACD adds a centre channel to the stereo
left and right, which should enhance the perspective of instrumental
entries, but you should not be deterred from buying this disc
if you will hear it in stereo only.
Franck D Minor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of
his best ever recordings of any repertoire with any orchestra.
This is a reading to make you forget any faults in the work's
form or thematic material as it sweeps you away with its energy
and enthusiasm. Not that Monteux's
is a rabble-rousing, hell-for-leather affair like Munch's
Boston recording: also for RCA and recently re-released at mid-price.
Monteux is more subtle, more French. He knows when to
let the music simmer, as with the very opening of the first
movement, and when to pull out the stops and let the big organ-like
sonority of this symphony rip; Franck, like Bruckner,
was an organist of renown. His tempo fluctuations seem
perfect and he plays the music - especially the difficult adagio/scherzo
central movement - with charm, turning corners with elegance.
Throughout, Reiner's Chicago Symphony
Orchestra give Monteux
their full attention and the benefit of their considerable skill.
Like their dour Hungarian chief, Monteux
was one of the great stick technicians of the last century.
This orchestra made many fine recordings for Reiner,
but they clearly enjoy playing for Monteux
and there is a warmth in their playing
as well as the expected pin-point accuracy.
There are other
ways to play this symphony. Munch blazes throughout.
Maazel is more incisive in his conception.
The better of his two recordings, made with the Cleveland Orchestra
for Decca, is now available on Australian Eloquence. If
you love this piece, you will probably want one or both of those
recordings, but you must have Monteux's.
If you do not know this piece yet, then you should let Monteux
introduce you. For Franckophiles
young and old, Monteux's reading is
After the Franck,
it would be easy to view Petrouchka
as merely a generous coupling, but this recording too has much
to recommend it.
has a special authority in Petrouchka.
It was, after all, one of a glut of masterpieces of the early
20th century which Monteux
premiered as house conductor of the Ballets Russes.
Monteux retained a special affection
for this score and in his hands it emerges here fresh and imbued
with Gallic charm. The opening is more relaxed than has
become the fashion, and the music smiles in a way that will
surprise listeners more accustomed to the whip-lash, powerhouse
readings that have latterly become so popular. That said,
Monteux does not let the music slacken
– he substitutes dramatic for visceral tension. The piece
remains a narrative for him and he allows the characters to
breathe and live. Nowhere will you hear the tragi-comic
puppet more sensitively portrayed.
The playing has
sparkle and snap. With the benevolent Frenchman at the
rostrum, the individual players have room to characterise and
phrase – the interplay between bassoon, flute and trumpet in
the Valse movement is a case
in point. Monteux's divided
violins also bring the string writing through clearly.
The difficult transitions are despatched so easily that you
do not even notice them.
will make you smile, and if you prefer to think of the score
as a hard-driven virtuoso work for orchestra, Monteux's
sensitive, balletic reading will take you by surprise.
sum, an unsurpassed Franck D Minor and an excellent Petrouchka
into the bargain. Highly recommended.