Monteux: The First NBC Concerts, Vol. 2 – Music by WEBER; HANDEL; SIBELIUS; GRIFFES; WAGNER; RAVEL [complete content list below] – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Pierre Monteux – Pristine Audio PASC 643 (78:27) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
The second appearance (20 November 1937) of Pierre Monteux before the newly-formed NBC Symphony offers a series of display pieces, meant to reveal the ensemble as a virtuoso, color instrument with a refined, responsive discipline in diverse musical styles. Monteux opens with a flourish, the Overture to Weber’s grand opera Euryanthe (1823), which survives only in the form of this eight-minute excerpt. Besides a series of dizzying, quick passages, the music features one lovely melody, some fine string and horn work, and a sophisticated sense of the composer’s capacity for counterpoint. The patented Monteux clarity of line asserts itself everywhere, and the dramatic intensity cannot be denied.
The music of Handel occurs rarely enough in the Monteux discography, and here we have the wily conductor’s own arrangement of the Concerto Grosso in D, reversing the last two movements to provide a hearty Allegro as a finale. From the opening solo violin foray, a pungent, aggressive reading unfolds, nicely balanced between the concertino intimacies and the larger, ripieno of the responsory group. The marvelous staccato of the NBC strings communicates a sterling drama of its own, especially in the delicious Presto movement. The stately, almost mystical, calm of the Largo leads to Monteux’s revision, placing the Menuet prior to the final Allegro.
Monteux proceeds with the two, interior movements from the Symphony No. 1 in E Minor (1899) of Jean Sibelius, the lyrical and pantheistic Andante and scintillating Scherzo. The former serves to highlight the virtues of the strings – especially the cello and harp – wind and brass sections of the NBC Symphony, while the latter resounds with strings, winds, brass, and timpani. The especial luster Monteux elicits from his players raises the level of playing to something on a par with the best British ensembles of the period, the Halle and the London Philharmonic. That Sibelius borrows his sense of color drama from Tchaikovsky does not detract from the potent, romantic effect of this music.
Music of the American impressionist composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920) ensues, his 1916 tone-poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, his response to the dream-vision poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that celebrates the power of the human imagination. The musical suggestion of Alph, the sacred river, and the strange palace assumes a grand pomp that soon allows a sense of oriental revelry to emerge. The color effects prove worthy of such masters of the orchestra as Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, and Respighi. Griffes’ pageant erupts into voluptuous gestures, a true bacchanal, only to dissolve back, or down, those “caverns measureless to man,” of the imaginative psyche. After sustained applause, Monteux and the NBC sustain an equally compelling, quickly-paced A Major to evoke the Holy Grail from Wagner’s 1850 opera Lohengrin. The crystal clarity of the occasion makes this reading one of the fine realizations in anyone’s collection.
Monteux concludes in grand, French style with the well-worn Suite No. 2 from Ravel’s 1912 ballet for Diaghilev, Daphnis et Chloe. Gurgling waves of sound define the sensuous, opening sequence, Lever de jour, with its gliding crescendos; John Wummer’s flute dominates the Pantomime, along with silky stings, harp and woodwinds. The concluding Danse generale, true to form, provides the perfect apotheosis to a concert, in the words of editor Andrew Rose, meant “to cram as much as possible into the available air-time.”
Monteux: The First NBC Concerts, Vol. 2
WEBER: Euryanthe – Overture
HANDEL: Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 5
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39: Movements 2, 3
GRIFFES: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, Op. 8
WAGNER: Lohengrin – Act I Prelude
RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2
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