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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Pierre Monteux - Tanglewood Volume 2: 1959
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op 90 (‘Italian’) (1833) [28:03]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op 25 (1831) [18:58]
Robert SCHUMANN (1819-1856)
Manfred Overture (1852) [12:33]
Introduction and Allegro Appassionato (1849) [16:21]
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
rec. 1 August, 1959, Tanglewood

This isn’t the first time that this Tanglewood concert has appeared. Back in 2012 it turned up in a large West Hill Radio Archives box devoted to Monteux’s Boston performances that was favourably reviewed here by John Quinn (review), an excerpted paragraph of whose text forms part of the documentation for this Pristine Audio release. What is missing from this latest transfer, for reasons of space, is the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan, though Pristine hopes that it will appear in a later volume in this mini-series. It’s available in that WHRA box.

Monteux was an erratic Mendelssohnian. The Fourth Symphony saw him at his most quixotic, and an earlier preserved example of his way with the Fourth Symphony saw me spitting feathers in a previous review of Sunday Evenings with Pierre Monteux (review) on Music and Arts. This 1959 example has a somewhat more temperate first movement but it is still bass-heavy and too fast, giving it a rather galumphing quality, that never settles. Whether Monteux was trying to inflate symphonic Mendelssohn to make a point or was subconsciously hustling through to keep up with the likes of Cantelli, is a debate that will lead nowhere. He does at least take the first movement repeat. Things stabilise thereafter – the third movement is definitely ‘con moto’ - but the sound is cool and a bit dry and doesn’t flatter in its lack of resonance. The Saltarello is, once again, big-boned.

For the First Piano Concerto he was joined by Rudolf Serkin, who improves as the work develops. Dropped notes in live concerts don’t especially concern me, though Serkin drops his fair share and sounds a little uncomfortable during the first movement, and neither man is given to rococo elements in this work. By the finale, however, things are motoring purposefully.

The remainder of the concert is devoted to Schumann. Serkin is on good form in the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato and in Manfred we hear Monteux approaching something like his best in this disc – power and sweep conveyed through a stern, propulsive sinewy reading.

That said, there are erratic and interpretatively individualistic elements aplenty in this disc. If you’ve not encountered it before it may be useful in drawing out the nature of Monteux’s affiliations – a stronger conductor in Schumann than Mendelssohn on this showing.

Jonathan Woolf



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