Pierre Monteux 2-cd Set
Pierre Monteux was born in 1875, when Bruckner and Brahms still had twenty years to live, and died in 1964, outliving John F. Kennedy. Living to almost 90 gave Monteux time to conduct the premiere of Le Sacre, head the BSO before Koussevitzky, spend 15 years with the San Francisco Sym., and end up as director of the London Sym. in his eighties (with a 25 yr. contract!) His repertoire included all the German classical and romantic composers (but no Mahler or Bruckner that I am aware of), unusual for a French conductor, as this 2 CD set thankfully represents. The set spans Monteux in his later years. CD 1, which is all German, begins with an alert, fizzy acocunt of the Beethoven Second with the fine radio orchestra of Hamburg (1960), and if its energy isn't remarkable enough, the following Tristan und Isolde Prelude, which is full-bodied and yet propulsive, dates from his 89th year. Both are in excellent radio stereo. The CD ends with a live Hindemith Mathis der Maler from 1962, with the Danish Radio Orchestra. This is virtuoso music but the orchestra isn't, and Monteux's middle-of-the-raod interpretation comes off as good but nothing special (nice explosion at the beginning of the third movement, thogh). CD 2 is French and Russian. It begins with a really fine Debussy Nocturnes from Boston (mono, 1953) in excellent sound. Monteux's way with the piece is direct and energetic rather than gauzily atmospheric. This CD is filled out with 50 min. of Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty excerpts, a familiar 1957 Philips recording in its day, with the London Sym. Monteux is to the manner born here, imparting vivacity and joy to each dance. The sound is good, too, though noticeably not up to date. Overall, the compilers have done well by a genuinely great but unassuming conductor. This is probably the best protrait of Monteux to be had. Thank God they left out any of his five recordings of the Symphonie fantastique. Five stars, definitely.