Is this ever a generous sampling of Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony! Music and Arts' Sunday Evenings with Pierre Monteux collects broadcast performances from Monteux's lengthy engagement with the Standard Hour program, heard on NBC's Pacific Radio Network from 1941 to 1952. This show aired on Sunday evenings, sponsored by Standard Oil (the predecessor to Chevron), and it featured West Coast orchestras exclusively. Monteux was heard in San Francisco during the winter and spring, and in summer and fall, another orchestra (usually the Los Angeles Philharmonic) was heard in his stead. There was a strict rule about timing; each work played had to be 20 minutes or less, but no more. Although this constraint prevented longer works, such as would be expected in the concert hall, from being programmed, it did afford Monteux flexibility in programming short pieces of a greater variety than that observed on his concurrent RCA Victor studio recordings, which are heavily weighted toward French and Russian literature.
The length of this set is nearly equal to that of BMG's huge Pierre Monteux Edition issued in 1994 at 14 discs; this is in 10 discs and runs nearly a 1,000 minutes. Whole discs within the collection are given over to Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Berlioz, Franck, and nearly two for Wagner performances. Also included is a Haydn Symphony No. 88, George Whitefield Chadwick's Jubilee, Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve Suite, Messiaen's L'Ascension, and several other rare works, including many that Monteux did not commercially record.
The sound, taken from transcription discs in the library of the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, ME, is mono in its entirety and somewhat limited even by the standards in place, say, by 1953. However, the transfers are all very clean and first-rate -- there is little to no source disc related noise among all 13 discs included. There is a noticeable improvement in the sound from mid-1950 on, as Standard Oil petitioned successfully -- the only sponsor that cared enough to do so -- against NBC to replace its company-made "ribbon" microphones with more responsive Altec Lansing models. Overall, compared to RCA Victor's typically bright, brittle, and distorted studio recordings from San Francisco, the recordings in this set are at least comparable to, and at times better than, Monteux's commercial recordings of the same period.
This is a lot of Monteux, but there are considerable rewards -- the sheer looseness and spontaneity of his montage of bleeding chunks from Act III of Die Meistersinger is joyful and tremendously exciting orchestral music-making. If the Monteux Edition on BMG and Decca's Original Masters set (seven discs) are not enough Monteux for you, then Music and Arts' Sunday Evenings with Pierre Monteux is the next logical step. However, if you missed those other sets, then this may well be the best place to start. Of the three sets just mentioned, this one by far has the best liner notes, written by longtime San Francisco-based critic Arthur Bloomfield.