In 1961, at age 86, Pierre Monteux was appointed chief conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra on a 25-year contract. It was typical of his sense of humour that he chose to sign a contract of this length at this time in his life, but there is no doubt that the brief period he enjoyed with the LSO – he died three years later, in 1964 – was one of the most remarkable Indian summers enjoyed by any conductor.
Here reissued are absolute classics of the recorded oeuvre, in absolutely sublime sound and with a real degree of punch that informed the “Decca” sound of the 1950s-70s. For all the historically-informed, so called ‘authentic’ recordings of Haydn, the Monteux/Wiener Philharmoniker synthesis is one of absolute magic. And deeply felt, expertly paced, are the Brahms ‘Haydn’ Variations.
Symphony No. 94 in G major ‘Surprise’
Symphony No. 101 in D major ‘Clock’
Variations on a theme of Haydn, Op. 56a
London Symphony Orchestra
Recording Producers: John Culshaw (Haydn); James Walker (Brahms)
Balance Engineers: James Brown (Haydn); Cyril Windebank (Brahms)
Recording Locations: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, April 1959 (Haydn); Kingsway Hall, London, December 1958 (Brahms)
*** ‘there are no more wittily enjoyable performances of these two symphonies in the catalogue. The recordings were considered demonstration-worthy in the early stereo era (Haydn) Penguin Guide to CDs
*** ‘riveting … The orchestral playing is excellent and the vigorous style gives the music a splendid forward impulse: the listener is gripped from first bar to last’ (Brahms) Penguin Guide to CDs
‘The VPO play with spirit and finesse and are obviously enjoying themselves. Of course the ‘Surprise’ comes off with a splendid bang and the tick-tack of the clock is deliciously droll, the violins wonderfully elegant. But sample, too, the swing of the fast Minuet of No. 94, the slow spacious introduction of No. 101, or the fizzing zest of both finales, which still have just the right degree of weight. There are surely no more enjoyable performances on disc (and I am not forgetting Beecham, Dorati or Sir Cohn Davis). Yet what makes this reissue even more treasurable is the inclusion of Monteux’s thrilling LSO account of the Brahms Haydn Variations’ Gramophone