Klaus Tennstedt enjoyed a relatively
brief period of fame before his unfortunate
death in the early 1990s. That period
of wide acclaim, at the helm of the
LPO, endeared him to audiences in London
and, via his EMI recordings, made him
the darling of the British musical scene
in the 1980s. EMI has been somewhat
reticent in making his discography available
since his death and so it is surprising
to see these Beethoven recordings released
on their budget priced Encore label
so soon after issuing them in tandem
with his magnificent live Eroica
as part of their Gemini series (review).
it is still a joy to have them available
again at last. Tennstedt was erratic
at best but was a deeply generous and
humane artist. Reportedly, when recording
Schubert’s Great Ninth Symphony,
the entire horn section of the Berlin
Philharmonic turned up to the sessions.
Rather than wasting their time Herr
Tennstedt made the decision to utilise
the eight players in a recording that
has was recently re-issued (review)
Tennstedt was best when captured live.
His live Mahler performances (Symphonies
1, 5, 6 and 7, never reissued)
represent his finest achievements for
EMI. All of which is strange given his
immense issues of insecurity. The tantalising
prospect of a Tennstedt Elektra
became what we now know to be one of
the finest Mahler Sixths on record
when the maestro decided that he wasn’t
confident enough to conduct Strauss’
masterpiece. The execs at EMI, rather
than pouring money down the drain, retained
the LPO to record the Mahler instead.
such insecurities (of conductor or players,
for that matter) mar these wonderful
Beethoven performances. No Tennstedt
performance was ideal but these are
certainly more enticing than the generally
anaemic Beethoven that we have become
accustomed to of late. Only Sir Charles
Mackerras, in his recent cycle for Hyperion,
has given us a humane, witty Beethoven
without trying to overly ‘classicize’
are big-boned, unashamedly ‘romantic’
performances. But then, shouldn’t the
Pastoral be romantic? It sets
out to portray vivid images of the countryside,
and does so with an ease and skill that
were lacking in many a Romantic composer.
True, Tennstedt’s phrasing is occasionally
lumpen and clumsy but there is a sense
of well-being about this music making
that will entice even the most ardent
of ‘period’ enthusiasts.
Eighth also receives a fresh,
invigorating performance, sweeping any
notion of period performance by the
wayside. These were, I believe, the
only studio recordings that Tennstedt
made of Beethoven’s symphonies. They
were certainly the ideal candidates
for the conductor’s unique combination
of insight and generosity of spirit.
sound is robust, occasionally opaque.
All things considered, this is a worthwhile
investment but not really a worthwhile
issue; not when the same performances
are available coupled with one of the
greatest Eroicas of all time.
EMI should probably consider re-issuing
the rest of their Tennstedt archive
before labels such as BBC Legends and
LPO Live beat them to it and continue
to release generally superior live recordings
of the same repertoire.
Owen E Walton