Franck: Symphony in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Stravinsky: Petrouchka. Pierre Monteux, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA Living Stereo 09026-63303-2.

To say that these interpretations are authoritative would be an understatement. Maestro Pierre Monteux performed the Franck Symphony in D Minor probably more so than any conductor before or since; and he premiered the Stravinsky Petrouchka in 1911. These recordings, from 1961 and 1959 respectively, were his last words on the subject. 

In terms of both performance and sound, my own previous favorites for the Franck Symphony were Charles Dutoit's digital recording on Decca and Sir Thomas Beecham's on EMI. I'll stick with commenting on Dutoit for comparison purposes, his performance and sound being very good (although not quite as good as Beecham's). Alongside the remastered Monteux, however, Dutoit seems more matter of fact, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane than Monteux. Monteux, on the other hand, is more reposed and more insightful. Although his timings are not much different from Dutoit's, Monteux's pacing is more meaningful for his greater lingering on pauses, his greater affection for phrasing.

Pierre Monteux
The music under Monteux is just as dramatic in the opening and closing movements as Dutoit's, swinging from moody to energetic, but it is especially more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows. The sound of the Dutoit disc is admittedly more detailed, but it is really no more lifelike. Where the newer Decca recording comes into its own is by its filling in the center of the orchestral sound better, Monteux's RCA recording being a bit more prominent in the left and right channels.     

The Stravinsky is another matter, and none of my references here--Rattle, Muti, Ansermet, Davis, and Haitink--moved me as much as Monteux did. Petrouchka has always struck me as a rather creepy little ballet, anyway, and Monteux brings out all the color of the slightly sinister characters and events.

The sound is even better here with the Boston Symphony than in the Franck with the CSO. My only previous experience with the recording was on an old LP that disappointed me greatly for its dullness and noise. But the recording is now shiny and well remastered, the highs sparkling, the midrange natural, the bass robust, the stereo spread considerable. Interestingly, Monteux introduced Petrouchka to American audiences in 1920 while also conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

To have both performances on a single, mid-priced CD is a godsend (and more recently remastered on an SACD). Obviously, I highly recommend it.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa