Classical Reissue Reviews

Pierre Monteux = BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Concerto No. 3; STRAVINSKY: Petrushka – Michel Schwalbe, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Pierre Monteux – Testament

The indefatigable octogenarian Monteux still rattles the rafters in a Berlin Philharmonic appearance with brilliant concertmaster Schwalbe, live performances previously unissued.

Published on February 8, 2013

Pierre Monteux = BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Concerto No. 3; STRAVINSKY: Petrushka – Michel Schwalbe, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Pierre Monteux – Testament

Pierre Monteux = BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72a; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28; SAINT-SAENS: Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 61; STRAVINSKY: Petrushka (1911 Version) – Michel Schwalbe, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Pierre Monteux – Testament SBT2 1476, (2 CDs) 28:58, 62:16 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The concert of 6-7 October 1960 marked only the second appearance in his career of French maestro Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: the first had occurred 5 April 1933. Then eighty-five-years old, Monteux still exuded the joie and vibrant élan with which he had approached his conductor’s art for sixty years. He was at the time the world’s oldest active orchestral leader. The featured soloist, the BPO’s esteemed Polish concertmaster Michel Schwalbe (1919-2012), appears both in a character sketch from the Richard Strauss symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel and in the perennially suave B Minor Concerto of Saint-Saens, in a performance one critic lauded for Schwalbe’s “having mastered the bewitching trickery of the passages with bravura. . .[bestowing upon] the sweet, stylish cantilenas the noble elegance proper to them.” Curiously, Schwalbe had attended Monteux’s conducting class in Paris, since Schwalbe harbored visions of his own leadership capabilities. And in spite of interpretational differences in regard to rhythmic flexibility in the Saint-Saens score, the collaboration transcends the “merely correct” assessment Schwalbe retained of Monteux’s accompaniment, as they wring some powerfully lyric expression from the Andantino and make real sparks of the last movement.

The live concert opens with a durable, robustly driven performance of the C Major Leonore Overture No. 3 for Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, a rendition that has the BPO brass in full throttle with Beethoven’s various calls to human liberation from the spirit of tyranny. The Till of Richard Strauss exerts bountiful wit and elastic presence, athletic as it is irreverent. Several of these works represent additions to the Monteux recorded legacy, his not having committed them to commercial records.

Anytime the music of Igor Stravinsky encounters the interpretational skills of Pierre Monteux, we bask in the throes of the “authenticity” movement.  Monteux gave the Petrushka world premier in 1911, and his 1960 sparkling sense of color and rhythmic vitality has diminished not a whit, especially given the responsive choirs of the Berlin Philharmonic. Refreshed and eminently pictorial in its vibrant sound magnetism, the performance dances and careens with an authoritative confidence born of long experience. Monteux would often quip about Stravinsky’s lack of technical expertise on the podium when leading his own scores, Stravinsky’s compensating by declaring that his erroneous results were the “correct” version!  The so-called Russian Dance quite bristles with angular energy, again enjoying the colors supplied by Michel Schwalbe in tandem with the BPO percussion. After a fluent but jarring visit to Petrushka’s Room, the panoply of exuberant Technicolor erupts into the Third and Fourth Tableaux, rife with trills and pipes, soaring strings and triumphant brass, a testament to the elasticity of Monteux’s musical youth on every level.

—Gary Lemco




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