Pierre Monteux Conducts = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Russian Easter Overture; Christmas Night; Capriccio espagnol; BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor”; STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps – San Francisco Sym./ BSO (Strav.)/Monteux – Guild

by | Nov 10, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Pierre Monteux Conducts = RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36; Christmas Night from “Christmas Eve”; Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34; BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor”; STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps – San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Boston Symphony Orchestra (Stravinsky)/Pierre Monteux

Guild GHCD 2342, 77:14 [Distrib. by Albany] *****:

An all-Russian program from the most “international” of French conductors, Pierre Monteux (1875-1964), provides a series of charming and often scintillating colors, from live concert inscriptions, 1943-1957. Four of the pieces on this disc are entirely new to the Monteux discography, so collectors be alert! Though Monteux retained a strong affection for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, he led only one work commercially for posterity, the Scheherazade, which he first set down on records in 1942.  The blazing performance of the Russian Easter Overture (13 April 1952) with the San Francisco Symphony offers a wonderful series of liturgical and pantheistic colors, the intensity of which rival those provided by the likes of Rodzinski and Stokowski. The Christmas Night (19 December 1943, in good sound) comes as a pleasant surprise, a mixture of pageants from Tsar Saltan and Mlada, brewed with the special magic we know from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  

No sooner have we clapped for Christmas Eve than the bursting flavors of the Spanish Caprice (2 March 1952) explode at us, a veritable whirlwind of Iberian charm. Briskly paced, deftly intoned, the five sections of this testament to rich orchestration pace forward, enjoying little touches of ritard and nuanced tremolandi. The interplay of woodwinds and plucked strings becomes a veritable paean to the Spanish soul, the flute twirling in a cloudless sky. The violin, harp, and oboe feverishly bring on the alborada, triangle glowing, the snare drum wickedly seductive. The harp cadenza segues directly into a fiery fandango, razor sharp and sultry as anything Szell achieved with his Cleveland band. The coda threatens to blow the Iberian Peninsula back to Pangeia! The last of the San Francisco collaborations gives us the popular Borodin Polovtsian Dances (23 December 1951), which Monteux did record commercially late in life in Hamburg. He eschews the first, quick dance for the more languorous slow introduction, then the pulsing, primal rhythms take over after our sojourn to “paradise.” Tympanic thunder for the fourth dance, the horns ablaze as though they were anticipating Stravinsky’s The Firebird. The deep horns and contrabassoon remind us that where Borodin is, Prokofiev is not so far away.

Monteux’s association with The Rite of Spring hardly needs apology or explanation; some six versions exist under Monteux and various ensembles, four of which he made for commercial records.  Here, in Boston (12 April 1957), at 82 years of age, he has long untied any metric Gordian Knots that might plague other interpreters. The Adoration of the Earth moves with lithe economy but with each resonant part etched solidly, a series of auditory spices of pungent audacity. The sheer virtuosity of the Boston brass section makes one marvel; the triple-tonguing alone is worth our price of admission. The Sacrifice proceeds with eerie energy, always cognizant of the erotic power that culminates these tableaux. Monteux moves the music at concert pace–battle speed–but always with a limber, athletic sense that dancers move in our collective imagination. Splendidly realized, the performance strides the times like a colossus, an aroused moment of ensemble guided at each moment by the sure hand of Le Maitre.

–Gary Lemco

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