Notes and Editorial Reviews
SUNDAY EVENINGS WITH PIERRE MONTEUX
Pierre Monteux, cond; San Francisco SO; Solomon (pn);
William Kapell (pn);
Lili Kraus (pn);
Shura Cherkassky (pn);
Naoum Blinder (vn);
Boris Blinder (vc);
Dorothy Warenskjold (sop)
MUSIC & ARTS 1192, mono (13 CDs: 946:53) Broadcasts: 1941–52
Consecration of the House Overture
. Symphony No. 5.
Leonore Overture No. 3.
Piano Concerto No. 3:
Symphony No. 35,
Piano Concerto in A,
K 414: Mvts. 2 & 3.
Die Entführung aus der Serail:
Symphony No. 41,
Iphigénie en Aulide:
Symphony No. 88.
Don Juan. Death and Transfiguration. Till Eulenspiegel. Der Rosenkavalier:
Prelude and Good Friday Music.
Preludes to Acts 1 and 3;
Dance of the Apprentices; Procession of the Masters.
Der fliegende Holländer:
Tristan und Isolde:
Prelude and Liebestod.
Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music.
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey.
Les préludes. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
Roman Carnival Overture. Les Troyens à Carthage:
L’enfance du Christ:
The Flight into Egypt; Trio of the Young Ishmaelites.
La damnation de Faust:
Minuet des follets; Ballet des Sylphes; Marche Hongroise.
Romeo and Juliet:
Symphony No. 4,
Ruy Blas Overture.
Romeo and Juliet.
Piano Concerto No. 1:
op. 39 (arr. Hertz).
Symphony No. 1:
Concerto for Violin and Cello:
L’italiana in Algeri:
The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Russian Easter Overture. Capriccio espagnol.
Scènes de ballet.
Symphony No. 2:
Mvts. 2 and 3.
Symphony in d.
Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue
Céphale et Procris:
The Merry Wives of Windsor:
The Three-Cornered Hat:
The Fountains of Rome.
Symphony No. 4.
Dieu de grace.
This is the third large Monteux collection I’ve had the opportunity to review for
over the last two years; the others were another Music & Arts set of live performances with the French National Orchestra (30: 3) and the Decca “Original Masters” set of studio recordings from his astonishing final decade (31:1). Each offers its share of treasures, along with a few items that might just as well have been left alone.
Although it’s hard—and, ultimately, unnecessary—to choose, I suggest a strong argument can be made that the present set is the most indispensable of the three. The French set mostly duplicates studio recordings Monteux made with better orchestras, and in better sound; the Decca set consists of reissued studio recordings that, while most of them are wonderful, will probably already be in the collections of serious Monteux fans. The current set, however—an expanded reissue of a 10-disc set originally published in 1997—comprises a total of 75 items, no fewer of 54 of which, according to my count, Monteux never recorded commercially. The original issue was reviewed in
21:2 by James Miller; because of the scope of the collection and the authoritative character of his comments, I will avoid duplicating discussion of all the items reissued here; I will, however, supplement and complement some of his observations with some of my own.
First of all, the good news: the original 10-CD set sold for the price of eight; the present issue adds three discs of new material, and features new remasterings of all the original recordings by Maggi Payne, still for the price of eight discs. If you own the older set, this one is worth buying more for the additional items than for the spruced-up sound. Although I haven’t by any means checked every item, the main differences seem to be a bit more presence and a lower noise floor from the original transcription discs; the difference is noticeable but not dramatic.
A few comments for those unfamiliar with the original issue: these recordings were made for weekly broadcast concerts sponsored by the Standard Oil Co. of California; officially, therefore, the orchestra is named “The Standard Symphony Orchestra.” In reality, the San Francisco Symphony alternated weeks with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The broadcasts were an hour long; for some reason, however, the sponsor placed a 20-minute limit on the duration of any single composition. This meant that few full-length symphonic compositions were programmed, and those that were either were represented by one or two movements, or cut in order to make it under the time limit. In actuality, I count six pieces—in addition to the complete Franck Symphony, evidently a birthday present to Monteux—that exceed the maximum, most of them only by two or three minutes. The longest is the Mendelssohn “Italian” Symphony, at 27:32, with the crucial first-movement exposition repeat; some of the tempos are, shall we say, sprightly. A more extreme treatment is given the Schumann Fourth (on Disc 13; this is one choice I question, especially since Monteux made a complete commercial recording the same year—1952—and, a live 1961 performance has recently been issued by BBC Legends): rather than the c. 27-minute duration of those recordings, this version comes in at 22:26! All four movements are shorn of all repeats, and the tempos are, in places, almost cartoonish; it’s as if Monteux told the sponsor, “You want the complete Schumann Fourth in 20 minutes? Here’s what you’ll get!”
The contents of the set are notable for several other reasons. Not a note by Debussy, Ravel, or Stravinsky is to be found—a dramatic and refreshing change from just about every other Monteux collection ever issued. Five composers each get an entire disc devoted to their music: Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Franck, and Berlioz. Of course, three of these composers figure prominently in Monteux’s commercial discography; but he recorded little Strauss and Wagner. Of his beloved Brahms there are several items spread throughout the set, but unfortunately only one symphony movement. Monteux recorded only the Second commercially—and that no fewer than four times—but at least broadcast versions exist of the First and Third with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (on Tahra, possibly still obtainable). It’s surprising, though, to find that he did record quite a bit of Brahms, especially considering the composer’s fairly small number of orchestral works: both overtures, the
, the D-Minor Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto, the
(with Marian Anderson), and the
. The first movement of the “Double” Concerto, published here for the first time, is a powerful reading; more’s the pity that it was not recorded complete. Violinist Blinder was a first-rate concertmaster (and, no less, the teacher of the young Isaac Stern); his brother Boris was a good cellist, but not as consummate a musician.
In his review of the original issue, colleague Miller observes that Monteux, despite his easy-going image and famously engaging personality, was a podium dynamo. I find that this is often true, but that Monteux’s tempos depended much on the repertoire. The Franck Symphony offered here—another item that is more redundant than most—is of almost exactly the same duration as the two San Francisco studio recordings; virtually all the compositions RCA had Monteux redo after the advent of the LP differ from the 78s, made six or eight years earlier, by mere seconds. Many works performed here, including the Mendelssohn overtures, most of the “light” music such as the Rossini overtures and
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
, as well as longer works including
Tod und Verklärung
Romeo and Juliet
, are paced beautifully. I agree with Miller that much of the Classical repertoire, including Beethoven, is on the brisk side, and likewise that most of the Wagner comes off as rather light-weight—a consequence, no doubt, of the orchestra’s sound as much as of Monteux’s tempos.
I took pages of notes on individual performances, but must select only a few to mention here: the booklet lists simply
, but of course Monteux plays not the entire opera, but the standard “Prelude and Good Friday Music.” In this music especially I miss the more expansive mysticism of Furtwängler and Stokowski. On the other hand, the
Overture is as stormy as one could wish! Strauss’s
too suffers from an insufficiently weighty approach; at 13:47, this performance is among the fastest I know.
, on the other hand, is both dashing and passionate, and at 16:32 is conventionally paced. The second movement of the Brahms First (placed, unfortunately, right after the
Overture) is gorgeous—lovingly phrased and expansively paced; at almost exactly 9:00, it’s close to a full minute longer than the 1963 Concertgebouw version, and slower than Bruno Walter’s Vienna Philharmonic and Columbia Symphony versions! The two movements from Rachmaninoff’s Second likewise make one long for a complete version. Try playing some of this for a fellow collector, and I doubt anyone would guess who the conductor was, or that the recording was made during the composer’s lifetime!
Last, some discussion of the items that are on the three new discs here: Arthur Bloomfield, who selected the contents of the set and provided the extensive notes, dubs Disc 11 “Lollipops”; it includes the Grétry, Nicolai, Massenet, Falla, the
The Fountains of Rome
. These items were probably omitted from the original set because their sound quality is rather dull, but just about everything here is right up Monteux’s alley; I would only have liked a more expansive climax in Respighi’s “Fountain of Trevi.” Disc 12 is “Monteux as Accompanist”: Solomon brings his usual technical mastery and perfect touch to the Beethoven C-Minor first movement, with Clara Schumann’s cadenza, which he used throughout his career. Lili Kraus is colorful in the
, and Cherkassky is typically individual and occasionally sloppy in the Tchaikovsky; the disc concludes with the Brahms Double. Disc 13 includes the Schumann Fourth already discussed, and a hellaciously fast Mozart “Jupiter” as well, plus the exhilarating
excerpts, the Alfano aria,
(Bloomfield doesn’t mention it, but those who know the piece will be in for quite a shock at the end), and the Chadwick
, which, along with the
Stars and Stripes
, is the only American music in the set.
The sound is variable but mostly superior to contemporary commercial recordings. Bloomfield’s notes, an updating of his 1997 originals, are breezy and anecdotal but informative—and how many people still remember Rachmaninoff’s appearance at San Francisco’s two-week festival of his music? He does err in stating that Monteux never recorded the
in the studio; he recorded it with the London Symphony in 1962 along with the Second Symphony and the
Academic Festival Overture
, but it was not issued until it appeared with the other two works on a 1994 Philips CD. Finally, the discs are in the now-standard envelopes inside a hinged cardboard box; the entire set takes up less than half the shelf space of the original three double jewel cases. If you’re an admirer of Monteux’s art, you’ll want this set. If you’re not, it might very well convert you. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan