FRANCK: Symphony in D minor . STRAVINSKY: Petrushka (original version)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Franck); Boston Symphony Orchestra (Stravinsky)/Pierre Monteux, cond.
RCA/BMG 63303  [M] [ADD] TT: 74:00]  

These are time-honored additions by Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) with two of the three US orchestras he was most closely associated with---"Living Stereo" digitally remastered from archival analog tapes during RCA Victor's stereo heyday. "Time-honored" is not to say, however, that both are equal in quality. Sadly, the 1959 Petrushka, recorded 35 years after Monteux was replaced on the Boston Symphony podium by Serge Koussevitzky, belies the fact that he led the original, Ballets Russes production in 1911.

The melon-shaped maestro with shoe-polish black hair and a white walrus mustache sounds all of his 84 years in this musicianly but matter-of-fact performance. Perhaps the work no longer engaged his full attention. Neither is the recording as voluptuous as the best from Bostonís Symphony Hall earlier and later. This is a cleaner performance than its mono companion, Le sacre du printemps, with the same orchestra in the same venue, which Monteux also premiered. But he was seldom if ever a guest in Boston after 1924, and hadn't the rapport  he'd developed as a a regular summer guest with the Chicago Symphony, at Ravinia, after 1947.

The word "summer" is operative here, since he conducted in Orchestra Hall downtown only twice---in 1948, and again in the winter of 1960-61, during Fritz Reiner's season-long sidelining by a heart-attack. This C»sar Franck, in fact, salvaged a session originally scheduled for Reiner:  Monteux's second version for RCA (he'd made it in mono with his own San Francisco Symphony some 15 years earlier). It remains a classic performance---some regard it as sine qua non. But I've never liked the piece (truth? hate it!), although RCA asked me to do the liner note. Since Edward R. Murrow's "You Are There" led the Nielsen ratings in 1961, that's the kind of note RCA wanted---forget the music, although I managed to sneak in a few details---just give us reportage.

I bought this digitized reissue for two reasons: to hear if the recording itself, always a little thick-sounding and harsh on disc, had been a great tape botched during disc remastering; and also whether my note was still being used. (RCA paid $75 per in those days, which included the copyright in perpetuity). The note survives, but there's no sonic revelation. Full-blooded, yes, but not a miracle of clarification. Maybe, though, there's no way to clarify the piece---blowzy as well as Wagnerian, blatty in fact, although Monteux was able to lift the latter curse.  You like Franck? In that case, I can't recall a nobler version among the live performances, broadcasts, and cassettes (in six years on Fanfare) suffered through before and since. That opinion has nothing to do with RCA's $75 (measly even then), although the coupled Petrushka is not one I plan to revisit, any more than I'm likely to replay the Franck, unless a program note should require a refresher course. You'll have to take it from there, or leave it. 

R.D. (Sept. 1999)