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Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Pierre Monteux
Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard [Classical] Wagner, Paul Hindemith
Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Pierre Monteux
Genres: Pop, Classical


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A Good Portrait of Monteux
Santa Fe Listener | 04/11/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Being an avid (obsessive-compulsive) music collector this sort of collection generally does not generally appeal to me, not for any lack of quality in the contents, but because I hate to deal with the duplication of materials (I have A on disc B, C on disc D, so that the only new material is E). That is much less of a problem here, since most of the studio material is only available only on old vinyl, and at least one performance (Mathis der Maler) is otherwise unavailable in any form. And the powers that be took care to make it a good, well-rounded of the man as musician. (The one hole in the picture, a major one, is the lack of anything with the San Francisco Symphony, which he led for about 15 years.) There is classical, romantic, and modern music; German, French, and Russian music; and, best of all, it shows him (well) playing composers with whom he was not normally associated.
The Debussy Nocturnes, previously released in the RCA collection of the mid-nineties, shows his fluid but energetic and vital way with French Impressionism. The Tchaikowsky excerpts are lovely, too, and remind me of what David Zinman said: that Monteux always played ballet music with the dancers in mind (just as jazz musicians have the song's words in mind while they play with the melody). The Hindemeth is rather reminiscent of Hindemeth's 1934 recording with its fast tempos and the way that the music is allowed to unfold naturally. (I only wish that Monteux had given more prominence to the brass in the last movement.)
In the case of the Wagner and the Beethoven, we have alternate versions. The Tristan Prelude and Liebestod was included in Music & Arts collection of radio performances with the San Francisco Symphony (CD-978). The two performances are about the same: they feature a light string tone, fast tempos, and a heady climax. A welcome tonic to the usual Teutonic performance by just about anyone else.
This is the fourth Beethoven Second that I know of. There is the 1952 SFSO recording, the 1958 live performance on Disques Montaigne with the Orchestre National de France, the LSO recording from the 1960's, and the present one. The San Francisco recording is, I think, the best; it is peerless in his headlong tempos and point and precision of the playing. The Orchestre National could not execute Monteux's ideas as well, although the London Symphony did manage to catch some of the earlier elan. This performance is quite different from any of the others. The tempos are slower, the orchestral sound is fuller, but there is still a great deal of attention to phrasing.
All told, you get a very good introduction to Monteux's art, and you get some idea of what makes it special as a conductor."
A great and beloved conductor gets his due
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."