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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Monteux at Tanglewood - Volume 4
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.36 (1801)[31:21]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben Op.40 (1898) [47:34]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
rec. live 29 July, 1962, Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood
XR remastering; stereo

Pierre Monteux had a very long-standing and highly successful relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, going back to his appointment as its chief conductor in 1919; this concert was recorded two years before his death when he was 87 years old. These are big, released performances played with the kind of zest, energy and brio of which Toscanini, his similarly long-lived contemporary, would have approved.

Pristine has given these “slightly hard-sounding stereo source recordings” excellent sound for their era and provenance; there is a little light background coughing but otherwise they are virtually indistinguishable from studio products – except for a strange, very audible pre-echo episode 21 seconds into track 10 and a passing aeroplane at the end of the symphony. Nonetheless, unless you specifically want a souvenir of this conductor, neither work is necessarily preferable to established catalogue classics in even better sound; “Ein Heldenleben” has been remarkably well served by recordings from Karajan (three, all superb), Reiner, Ormandy and Oue – the latter in the best sound yet from Minnesota. For all that I admire Kempe, his “Heldenleben” is too civilised for me; Monteux is in good company by being properly unbuttoned. As for the Beethoven symphony, options are legion but certainly Monteux gives us a thrilling, live experience of that extraordinary music.

Monteux really does everything right in both works: despite the flexibility of his tempi, the tension throughout the whole half hour of the symphony is gripping. The Larghetto is poised, alert and precise, flowing smoothly without undue sentimentality; the Scherzo is positively rollicking with a charmingly perky trio; the finale sets the Shed alight, building inexorably to a riveting climax.

The Strauss is similarly sharp and driven,; Monteux steams through this gigantic symphonic poem, drawing virtuosic playing from his orchestra, especially some exquisite solo playing from the lead violinist in “Des Helden Gefährtin” depicting the mercurial Pauline de Ahna, his wife, and the trumpets and horns in “Des Helden Walstatt” are epic.

Perhaps neither of these two live performances from the hallowed ground of Tanglewood is anyone’s first choice but these make a great souvenir of a much-loved conductor in his golden years shortly before his death.

Ralph Moore



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