Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: "Papa" Monteux, "Petrushka," and fiddlers four

Monteux conducted Saint-Saëns (!) in the Schumann Concerto
[from the 80th-birthday interview with Edward Kelly included in the set]

How Monteux came to conduct the premiere of Stravinsky's
Petrushka (and later, of course, The Rite of Spring)

Monteux conducts the opening of Petrushka

As we know, he conducted the ballet's premiere with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1911. This excerpt is from the recording he made with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for RCA, Jan. 25-28, 1959.

by Ken

If we had an actual snapshot to accompany today's musical ones, it would be of me arriving at my desk to find a package of a size that didn't immediately suggest anything I'd ordered. This is the plus side of dissipating memory: the occasional surprise "gift." (In fairness of a sort to me, the two things I could recall having ordered both had special circumstances -- meaning complications -- attached.)

I had to rip the package open to find, as you've probably guessed by now, the Sony set of Pierre Monteux: The Complete RCA Album Collection, which is to say all the recordings he made for RCA. (There's a fellow online who refuses to grasp, no matter how many times it's explained to him, that this is not the same thing as "all the recordings of his that were issued on RCA" (and thus it excludes those made during the label's affiliations with EMI and then Decca, which after all don't belong to it), and keeps insisting that he was somehow cheated. I have suggestions of what he might do, but I'll be good and keep them to myself.

I ordered this set, even though I already had a lot of the material on CD -- there's the rest that I didn't have, and some that I did that I hoped might sound better. And more than anything, this is Monteux, and longtime readers will have some idea how much that means to me. This is a musician with as deeply resonant and finely tuned musical sensibilities as any conductor I'm familiar with.

When I came to musical consciousness, Monteux (1875-1964) was still very much among us, and still -- into his 80s -- amazingly active. So perhaps it's understandable that for me he is permanently "Papa" Monteux. The new set reminds me, however, that his air of seniority goes back a ways. When he made his first RCA recordings, in San Francisco in April 1941 (weirdly, by telephone line to RCA's recording studio in Los Angeles), he was already 66! And though Sony bills the first 10 of these 39 music CDs, devoted to the pre-LP recordings (there's also a "bonus" CD with a 29-minute 80th-birthday interview), "The Early Recordings," these are of course only Monteux's early RCA recordings; he had been recording in Europe for decades.


Here at Sunday Classics we've heard "Papa" in a wide range of repertory, symphonic and operatic -- breaking down, I hope, the stereotype that he himself so resented, of himself as a conductor of French music. He conducted French music surpassingly well, but he had come to musical maturity in a totally multinational repertory. (Just last week, for example, we heard him conducting the near-end of Act II, Scene 1 of Verdi's La Traviata, including Germont's aria "Di Provenza," with Leonard Warren as Germont and Cesare Valletti as Alfredo, from their 1956 RCA recording made in Rome, June 1-11, 1956.)

That said, I'm a little embarrassed to say that when it came to picking a few musical snapshots for today's post, one thing that caught my eye was the fiddlers represented, and I quickly glommed onto selections that are predominantly French. Well, so be it!

So we're hearing Leonid Kogan and Jascha Heifetz playing two great violin-and-orchestra showpieces, and then the 29-year-old Yeuhudi Menuhin playing the then-often-omitted Intermezzo as well as the scintillating final Rondo of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole. Finally, however, honoring Sony annotator (and Monteux biographer) John Canarina's claim that Monteux's favorite composer was Brahms, we hear the slow movement of his Violin Concerto with Henryk Szeryng. (In the 80th-birthday interview included with this set, Monteux says his favorite composer was Beethoven.)

SAINT-SAËNS: Havanaise, Op. 83
(i. Allegretto lusinghiero; ii. Allegro -- Tempo I;
iii. Allegro non troppo -- Più allegro -- Allegretto)

Leonid Kogan, violin; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-Sony, recorded Jan. 12-13, 1958

CHAUSSON: Poème, Op. 25

Jascha Heifetz, violin; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-Sony, recorded Dec. 17, 1945

LALO: Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21:
iii. Intermezzo: Allegretto non troppo

v. Rondo: Allegro

Yehudi Menuhin, violin; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-Sony, recorded Jan. 26-27, 1945

BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77:
ii. Adagio

Henryk Szeryng, violin; London Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-Sony, recorded June 18-20, 1958

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