The timing of this release by Tahra is very apt in the year of the
fiftieth anniversary of Monteux' death in 1964. This 'twofer' is the second
installment in a tranche of live concert recordings that Monteux made in
Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1996 a four-CD set was issued
by Tahra (TAH175-178
), long since deleted and reviewed by John Quinn on
MusicWeb International in 2002.
Monteux could trace his relationship with this orchestra right back to
1924, when he was asked to step in at short notice to replace an ailing
Mengelberg. This first concert took place on 9 October 1924. He went on to
perform regularly with this distinguished band until 1939 and the outbreak
of World War II. His concerts resumed again in 1948 and continued until the
last concert with them on 25 November 1963, several months before his death
the following July.
Between 20 and 25 November 1963, Monteux conducted five concerts with the
Concertgebouw; there was no concert scheduled for the 22 November. On the
last two evenings the same programme was given, and the Berlioz and Brahms
we have here are from the 24 November; the conductor was 88 years old at the
time. It was taped by Dutch Radio AVRO. In addition, as a tribute to
President Kennedy who had been assassinated two days before, Monteux began
the concert with the Marcia funebre
from the Eroica
items here are all first time CD releases. The Berlioz has had an LP
incarnation before (Past Masters PM-37) and Tahra, in the four-CD set
mentioned above, released a Brahms First Symphony from the 20 November
It was a sign of Monteux's admiration for President Kennedy that he
suggested beginning the concert with the Marcia funebre
hearing the tragic news both he and his wife had spent the afternoon praying
for the murdered president, Doris commenting 'It is up to us Catholics to
make sure he gets to heaven, right, Pierre?'. Despite the melancholy mood of
the conductor, he delivers a well-paced account, in no way heavy-footed,
languorous or lugubrious as some I've heard. Yet, a grandeur pervades, with
Monteux building the music from a restrained beginning to a noble and solemn
As a young man, Berlioz won the Prix de Rome and was allowed to travel to
Italy in 1831-2 for the purposes of study within a cultural environment.
Years later Paganini, who had come into the possession of a Stradivarius
viola, asked the composer for a work to showcase his virtuosity on the
instrument. The result was a four-movement symphony, depicting memories of
the Italian sojourn. Harold
is derived from Byron's "Childe
Harold', who is witness to scenes of Italian life, depicted by the viola
which assumes the role of bystander rather than protagonist. Paganini
rejected the work on account of its lack of virtuosity, stating 'it is too
full of rests', and never performed it. Despite this, the work requires
great skill in performance, one that Klaas Boon, principal violist of the
orchestra, is able more than adequately to fulfil. Monteux has an intuitive
technical grasp of the work as he too had been a competent viola player in
his younger days. The solo instrument is captured well in the overall
balance, with Boon giving a cultivated performance. He coaxes a rich, mellow
tone from his viola. Monteux offers well-paced support.
The Brahms First Symphony is a fairly brisk reading, with Monteux at all
times forging ahead. He draws great lyricism from the rich string section.
Though the ageing sound quality is somewhat compromised, resulting in some
loss of detail in the woodwind section, this is a small price to play for
such outstanding musicianship.
The bonus of the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Rostropovich from November
1960, as a filler, is an added delight. In remarkably good sound for its
age, it is evident that Monteux and Rostropovich share the same artistic
vision. The cellist's rich burnished tone and instinctive musicianship make
this a captivating performance. Monteux really engages with the soloist,
inspiring him especially in the more lyrical moments. Yet, there is great
spontaneity in the reading, and it emerges as one of the warmest traversals
of this work that I have heard.
Liner-notes are in French and English with a couple of fine colour poster
illustrations thrown in for good measure.
All told, this is musicianship of the highest level throughout. As I have
said, one can put up with, at times, less than ideal sonics when
encountering conducting and playing of this calibre.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven symphony 3
~~ Brahms symphony 1
~~ Dvorak cello concerto