BBC Legends BBCL 4172-2, 56:45 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
The name of conductor Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) continues to evoke ideas of a calm, infinitely capable, precise veteran capable of diverse musical styles, a master of his craft. The live and studio (BBC Symphony) performances inscribed here date 1961-1963 and testify to the range and versatility Monteux commanded throughout his long career.The Pijper’s Third Symphony (1926) was written for Monteux specifically; he and Eduard van Beinum championed the rather dry, laconic piece frequently. Written in one movement, the piece subdivides into four tempo changes, the Molto adagio section of which has a few tender moments. The other quick movements pass by with only a suggestion of their harmonic and acoustical niceties to impress us, unless buttressed by repeated hearings.
From the same studio sessions at the BBC (11 October 1961) comes the perfectly wrought Le Tombeau de Couperin suite by Ravel, demure, sparkling, liquid in conception. Youthful elegance informs every note and nuance of the Elgar Variations on an Original Theme (4 March 1962), whose woodwind riffs and horn fanfares call forth the best of the LSO battalions. Barry Tuckwell confessed to me how much he admired the clear, precise beat from Monteux’s immutable stick technique, the best he knew. Even Sir Adrian Boult expressed envy for Monteux’s stirring and crisply etched accounts of Elgar’s Variations. The utterly extroverted, open-air quality of Monteux’s interpretation is thoroughly gripping and engaging, the violas at the Andantino and Intermezzo purling, and the great Nimrod Variation’s achieving a towering, magisterial grandeur. “We played well for some conductors out of fear,” quipped Barry Tuckwell; “but with Monteux, it was out of love.” The tension Monteux accumulates for the Romanza’s transition to the Finale surges forward to a monolithic peroration. The program begins and ends with two national moments of jingoistic pomp, the Jubel Overture, (24 September 1963), with its long-hail the Duke of Wellington; and Chabrier’s wittily heraldic Fete polonaise (14 December 1961). Rarely has Chabrier sounded so much like Rimsky-Korsakov until the ungainly, heavy-footed dance begins, which then spins in lavish turns, the LSO’s brass and strings in glorious form.
— Gary Lemco