Rare early recordings, including a complete 1929 Rite of Spring
Pierre Monteux "bracing" in Stravinsky, Ravel, Chabrier and Coppola
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
Notes on the recording:
Pierre Monteux’ early recordings fall into three general categories: the Berlioz discs, including a complete Symphonie Fantastique; the three concerto recordings with Menuhin; and the rest, which are presented here. While the Menuhin recordings have rarely been out of print in one form or another since they first appeared and the Berlioz records have seen at least two CD reissues during the 1990s, the remainder have proven rather hard to come by. I am aware of only one previous CD reissue of the Stravinsky, Coppola and Chabrier items, and none at all of the two Ravel works.
Part of the reason for this may have been due to the rarity of the original discs. Unlike the Menuhin recordings, which saw release throughout the world, or the Berlioz records which came out in America, the other recordings were only issued in France. Adding to their rarity are the difficulties involved in their transfer. None of them were released on particularly quiet shellac, and much of the original engineering was not state-of-the-art for the time. The volume levels of several of the recordings were adjusted downward as the recordings went along, requiring compensating increases on the part of the restoration engineer; and the recorded sound is sometimes rather raw and harsh.
Most problematic of all is Monteux’ first recording, the Stravinsky. Four of the eight sides were only issued as sonically-compromised “dubbings”. These were re-recordings made from the original metal discs or shellac pressings in order to decrease volume levels so that the discs would pass the “wear test”, particularly needed for the many loud passages in this work. Being copies of copies, dubbings had inherently inferior sound. They also had similar volume decrease problems, which I have attempted to mitigate by matching the dynamic extremes against Monteux’ 1956 Decca recording with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.
Notwithstanding their many faults, these are bracing performances. It is a particular shame that La Valse and Sacre did not see the international release that the contemporaneous recordings by Koussevitzky and Stokowski had in the Victor/HMV family of labels, because in both scores Monteux proves more vital than the other conductors’ comparatively restrained accounts. La Valse in particular has a wealth of characterful detail in the wind playing, coupled with an inexorable momentum that carries through to a shattering conclusion.
notes from Wikipedia
Life and career
Monteux studied violin from an early age, entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine. He became a proficient violinist, good enough to share the Conservatoire's violin prize in 1896 with Jacques Thibaud. In his spare time he also played at the Folies Bergères. He later took up the viola studying with Théophile Laforge and played in the Geloso Quartet which played one of Brahms's string quartets in a private performance for the composer and in the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, leading the viola section in the première of Debussy's opera, Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902.
In 1910, Monteux took a conducting post at the Dieppe casino. The next year, 1911, he became conductor of Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company, the Ballets Russes. In this capacity he conducted the premières of Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) – with its famous riot – as well as Debussy's Jeux (1913) and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (1912). This established the course of his career, and for the rest of his life he was noted particularly for his interpretations of Russian and French music.
With the outbreak of World War I, Monteux was called up for military service, but was discharged in 1916, and travelled to the United States. There he took charge of the French repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1917 to 1919. He also conducted the United States premières of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel and Henri Rabaud's Mârouf, savetier du Caire at the Metropolitan Opera.
He then moved to the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919-1924). He had a major effect on the Boston ensemble's sound, and was able to fashion the orchestra as he pleased after a strike led to thirty of its members leaving. He also introduced a number of new works in Boston, notably works by French composers. Monteux in 1924 conducted the orchestra in the New York première of The Rite of Spring, a performance which included a "galvanized" 15-year-old Elliott Carter in the audience, according to a 2008 report. (Carter was again in attendance, on the occasion of his 100th birthday in Carnegie Hall in 2008 when the orchestra, now under the baton of James Levine, again performed the Stravinsky piece.)
In 1924, Monteux also began an association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, serving as "first conductor" ("eerste dirigent") alongside Willem Mengelberg. In 1929, he was entrusted the direction of the Orchestre symphonique de Paris, which he conducted until 1935.
Monteux then returned to the United States, and worked with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra from 1935 to 1952. He began recording with the orchestra for RCA Victor in 1941 and made numerous discs in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House for the next 11 years. In 1943, he founded a conducting school, The Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians, in Hancock, Maine, the childhood home of his second wife, Doris Hodgkins Monteux, where Monteux was now living. There he taught such future conductors as Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, André Previn, Werner Torkanowsky and David Zinman. In 1946, he became a United States citizen. He made a nostalgic return to San Francisco in 1960 to guest conduct the orchestra and to record Richard Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration for RCA Victor, the only stereophonic recordings he made with his former orchestra.
In 1951, Monteux renewed his association with the Boston Symphony as a regular guest conductor. He conducted it in Boston, at Tanglewood, and on a transcontinental tour and on two tours to Europe. Monteux also recorded with the Boston Symphony for RCA Victor. He continued to conduct the Boston Symphony until his death in 1964.
From 1961 to 1964 he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was 86 when he was invited to take the post, and he famously accepted on condition that he had a 25-year contract, with a 25-year option of renewal. With the LSO Monteux gave the 50th anniversary performance of The Rite of Spring, at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in the presence of the composer. In his last studio sessions, for Philips Records in 1964, Monteux recorded a disc with the LSO and his son, the flautist Claude Monteux, the only gramophone recording Pierre and Claude made together.
Pierre Monteux died in Hancock in 1964.
Monteux observed, 'Our principal work 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"'. He advised the young Previn that when orchestras are playing well the conductor should not interfere with them. 'His approach to all music is that of the master-craftsman,' according to an approving critic in 1957. The record producer John Culshaw described Monteux as 'that rarest of beings — a conductor who was loved by his orchestras' and said that 'to call him a legend would be to understate the case.' Toscanini observed that Monteux had the best baton technique he had ever seen.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Monteux
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