ROSSINI: L'Italiana in Algeri Overture. BRAHMS: Symphony
No. 3 in F, Op. 90 (BBC Northern Symphony Orch)
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 (BBC Symphony
Orch) Pierre Monteux, cond.
BEETHOVEN: Leonore Overture No.
3. PROKOFIEV: The Love for Three Oranges Suite. DVORÁK: Symphony
No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World."
These recent issues in the BBC Legends series have limited rewards, with two distinguished conductors in live performances from BBC broadcasts.The Monteux program begins with Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri Overture recorded in Town Hall, Manchester, Nov. 21, 1962, a rather eccentric performance, comic in its own right, about a half-minute longer than his April 6, 1952 San Francisco Symphony broadcast (available on Music & Arts CD 978). This is followed by Symphony No. 3 of Brahms recorded at the same concert. Brahms was a favorite of the conductor, who had in his youth played viola in the Geloso Quartet in a concert attended by Brahms (who had, Monteux recalled, "a sense of strength, a beard and rather sad eyes"). It is strange that Monteux made four recordings of the composer's Symphony No. 2 (two with the San Francisco Symphony, one with the Vienna Philharmonic, one with the London Symphony), but recorded none of the other three symphoniescontradicting a statement in BBC's CD notes that Monteux recorded No. 3 for Philips with the Concertgebouw, which is not true. The Dutch orchestra did record the Third in 1932 with Mengelberg, in 1951 with Szell, in 1956 with Beinum, and in 1970 with Haitink. One would never suspect from the energy of this performance that Monteux was 86 (and had just signed a 25-year contract as Chief Conductor of the London Symphony!). As the octogenarian conductor never made a commercial recording of the Third, some collectors may wish to have this, although there exists another live recording with the Concertgebouw from a concert Oct. 30, 1960, to be found in the fascinating TAHRA set Pierre MonteuxÀ Amsterdam, 4-CDs that also contain the composer's Symphony No. 1 (1963), Tragic Overture (1962)and Violin Concerto with Nathan Milstein (1950) (TAH 175-8).
Schumann's Symphony No. 4 was another favorite of the French conductor. He recorded it for RCA in San Francisco, but it was not included in RCA's 15-CD Monteux Edition. Unfortunately neither of the BBC orchestras heard on this CD is of top quality, although BBC's engineers have done reasonably well in capturing the performancesalthough sound is not as good as heard in their recording of Jascha Horenstein's Mahler Eighth a few years earlier.
Rudolf Kempe's CD is of interest primarily for the suite from Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, music usually not associated with the conductor. Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 begins the program and Dvorák's "From the New World" concludes it. Around 1964 Kempe recorded the latter with the Royal Philharmonic for the Reader's Digest, issued on LP and in 1988 on a long out-of-print CD (Menuet 160014). This has long been among my favored recordings of this music.When Chesky issued "From the New World" they elected to use the Digest Royal Philharmonic/Jascha Horenstein version which to me is not as distinctive as the Kempe.(Kempe also recorded a superb Beethoven Emperor concerto for the Digest with Rudolf Firkusny and the RPO, issued as well on Menuet (CD 160015, long deleted). This live BBC recording of the Dvorák offers the same kind of propulsive performance Kempe gave on his recording, but here it is marred occasionally by orchestral slips. Another debit is sound quality; although recorded in stereo in 1975, sound per se, isn't up to the usually high BBC standards, with overpowering "oil can" timpani.
The BBC Legends series contains many magnificent performances worthy of the title; these two CDs leave much to be desired, particularly at full-price.
R.E.B. (Feb. 2001)