Pierre Monteux in New York = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7, Piano Concerto No. 5 – Archipel

by | Oct 23, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Pierre Monteux in New York = BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor” – Rudolf Serkin, piano/ NBC Symphony Orchestra (Op. 92)/ New York Philharmonic/ Pierre Monteux – Archipel ARPCD 0532, 74:34 [Distr. By Qualiton] ****:
French maestro Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) has rarely generated so much heat in the music of Beethoven as we have here, in performance in the Seventh Symphony (15 November 1953) with the NBC Symphony and the Emperor Concerto (26 February 1959) with Rudolf Serkin and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  Monteux recorded generously, yet he disdained the medium as lacking the spontaneity he relished before an audience. A model of classical control and poise, Monteux eschewed histrionics and theatrics in his music making. “Our principal work [as conductors] is to keep the orchestra together and carry out the composer’s instructions, not to be sartorial models, cause dowagers to swoon, or distract audiences by our ‘interpretation,’” Monteux noted.
Yet the intensity Monteux garners from his two New York ensembles might induce seasoned listeners to swoon, if not from flagrant emotionalism, then from admiration mixed with envy.
The A Major Symphony proceeds with noble assurance; and once the Vivace establishes its right tempo, the spirit of limitless energy arises from every musical kernel. The enchantment of the first movement derives as much from Monteux’s restraint as from the innate kinetic energy in Beethoven’s dance motif. Urging the strings to play with the tip of the bow, Monteux elicits every kind of color nuance before the real frenzy of the revel sweeps us away. The infinitely beautiful Allegretto movement, what Virgil Thomson once called “the most tragic music Beethoven ever wrote,” opens with hushed intimacy and expands to a graceful dirge for a fallen world, Paradise Lost. Happily, the Symphony performance derives from Carnegie Hall and not the notorious Studio 8-H and deadened acoustics. The ensuing Presto realizes Wagner’s epithet of the “apotheosis of the dance” in the outer sections; but the real miracle lies in the sustained pedal and monumental sonority of the trio.  If we asserted this were Furtwaengler at the helm, who would dare argue? The audience froths at the bit for Monteux’s explosive Allegro con brio, in which his innate capability to turn any dance into a potential “spring rite” runs carefree among the high fields of hay, every musical turn a whirlwind. The NBC bass fiddles, horns, and tympani can barely keep the strict time of the ensemble, but the velocity never loses a sense of plastic structure. Monteux modulates the rush to judgment of the coda with a decisive will, the last crescendo and rocket figures cracking some infinite Mach of the spirit. Ben Grauer’s voice trails away into history. . .
Bohemian piano virtuoso Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) made a career performing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto; and here with Monteux, he literally blazes and sings his way through its filigree like a honed razor through whipped cream. The sheer velocity of Serkin’s streamlined runs and phraseology makes us wonder if he had not heard rival Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and decided to eclipse him. Yet, the despite the persistent and ineluctable flow of the opening movement Allegro, the approach remains broad and generously rounded at the cadences. The alla musette figure near the coda revels in deft, aerial sonority, a music-box lit by fireflies. At the resounding last chords of the Allegro, the audience breaks out into hearty, sustained applause. The slow movement provides in serene temper what the opening movement bestowed in liquid fire. The strength of Serkin’s trill, always a miracle in itself, carries us forward in evenly contrived units of rocking sound, a sonata with plucked string and woodwind obbligato. Monteux’s accompaniment proves no less diaphanous, intense but clear and poignant.
The anticipation to the crashing chords of the final Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo looms as palpably as the actual torrent of unleashed energy that ensues. The NY Philharmonic trumpets and tympani (Saul Goodman) contribute as much to the febrile momentum of this reading as do Serkin and our inspired conductor. The variants and colorful modulations of the dance assume a greater freedom and fervor as they proceed, until the bassoon and piano frolic among the winds, horns and tympani to the keyboard’s final series of stuttered runs and emblazoned chords over the ubiquitous tympani. At the last chords, the atom bomb of audience joy explodes in cascades of its own.
—Gary Lemco

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