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alternatively Crotchet

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no. 8 in F Op. 93 (1812) [26:16]
Symphony no. 6 in F Op. 68, Pastoral (1807) [43:03]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt.
rec. November 1985 and March 1986, Abbey Road, London. DDD
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5089932 [69:19]

Experience Classicsonline

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).

Nevertheless, 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)

Indeed, 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.

No 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’ the composer.

These 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.

The 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.

EMI’s 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



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