Monteux at Tanglewood Vol. 2 = MENDELSSOHN: Piano Con. No. 2; Sym. No. 4; SCHUMANN: Intro & Allegro appassionato; Manfred Ov. – w/ Serkin, p. – Pristine

Some rousing Mendelssohn and Schumann grace this live Monteux concert from “The Shed” at Tanglewood.

Monteux at Tanglewood Volume 2 = MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in g minor, Op. 25; Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 “Italian”; SCHUMANN: Introduction and Allegro appassionato in G Major, Op. 92; Manfred Overture, Op. 115 – Rudolf Serkin, p./ Boston Sym. Orch./ Pierre Monteux – Pristine Audio PASC 473, 77:36 [avail. in several diff. formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The concert of 1 August 1959 for the summer music festival of the Boston Symphony features two veteran musicians, Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) and pianist Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991). Collectors are likely aware that Serkin recorded the two concertante pieces for CBS with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra under slightly less manic conditions. Still, if one can forgive Serkin’s finger slips – mostly in the Concerto’s first movement – the performance here proffers a musical fireball by two acolytes of the Romantic ethos.

Monteux opens with a work he did not record for RCA commercially, the “Italian” Symphony of Mendelssohn. Monteux takes the oft-neglected repeat in the first movement, and then proceeds to compensate for the added minute by injecting a heated velocity into the remainder of the movement. The audience applauds the players for their sheer bravura. The proceeding movements enjoy both a fleet pace and sensitive articulation, light-footed and eminently enthusiastic. Always a stickler for interior-voice clarity, Monteux fashions an Italian romp that has energy and singing virtuosity.

Schumann’s gloomy Overture to the Byron poem “Manfred” has had its ponderously “profound” moments, but this is not one of them. More interested in propulsive drama, Monteux maintains a distinctly tragic quality in the music while driving it inexorably forward. In this respect, Monteux’s reading reminds me of that by Beecham. The upward scales in the late pages enjoy a potent momentum whose burnished string sound testifies to “the aristocrat of orchestras.” The BSO brass prove no less fervent and deserve high praise for their epic sonority, insofar as Nature teaches Manfred “the language of another world.”

Schumann intended the 1849 Introduction and Allegro appassionato as a display piece for wife Clara, after the initial success of the Concerto of 1845. Its opening filigree enjoys a pastoral range of harmony, and Serkin appears in his most poetic form. The rather imperious march that constitutes the second half of this rousing sixteen-minute work suggests another of Schumann’s calls to arms against the cultural philistines. The martial elements of the second section have their foil in dreamy, nostalgic phrases in waltz-character. Some liquid French horn work and opulent upper brass announce the composer’s aesthetic and moral victory. The clapping has burst forth long before Serkin’s final notes.

—Gary Lemco

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