Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 94,
Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Pierre Monteux, cond;
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 4726 (64:09)
Virtually everything that typified Pierre Monteux as a conductor is evident in these reissues of performances that were recorded toward the end of his career, the two Haydn works dating from 1959, the Brahms from 1958. Granted these symphonies can be heard in more arresting performances today based on modern musicological research. But one must consider them in the context of their time. So placed they hold up very well, especially on repeated hearings. Nothing is eccentric or mannered; textures, if not quite so clear as in other accounts, are nonetheless adequately defined; tempos are generally conservative in that they never seem too fast or too slow. And in both slow movements, Monteux recognizes that
means “walking” and requires a clear forward movement. Certainly his pacing in each is considerably faster that those favored by Beecham, one of the most admired Haydn interpreters of his day. In fact, compared to those Monteux favored, Beecham’s seem almost static.
Monteux was an avid Brahmsian and had the good fortune of meeting the composer when he performed one of his works as a member of the Geloso Quartet. After the performance Brahms noted, “It takes the French to play my music properly. The Germans all play it too heavily.” There is nothing heavy about this fine account of the Brahms Haydn Variations, one that is utterly free of excessive weight, marked by sharp contrasts between one variation and the next, and stamped with refreshing clarification of significant detail. Note, in particular, the concluding variation, a passacaglia where the bass on which it is built remains in constant focus. In short, this is a most welcome reissue and an essential acquisition for anyone interested in Monteux.
FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank
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