Bring together one of my very favourite choral works and a conductor
whom I admire greatly and all would seem set fair for a fine release.
Well, up to a point but potential purchasers need to be wary.
This present performance
is taken from a concert at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts.
Around this period Tennstedt made a commercial recording of
the Brahms Requiem for EMI, using the LPO and its Choir. For
the studio recording, which I have not heard, he had different
soloists in the shape of Jessye Norman and Jorma Hynninen.
Requiem has been lucky on disc, with several fine recordings.
In recent years there have been a number of important versions
using period instruments, among which I’d prize particularly
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s 1990 recording (Philips) and also
the light, luminous live recording by Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia
Mundi, 1996). Among traditional, large-scale performances, my
personal favourites are the account led by Rudolf Kempe (EMI,
1955) and the magisterial Klemperer reading (also EMI, 1961).
The first thing
that struck me when I received this recording was the length.
Deducting the applause at the end Tennstedt takes 76:11 whereas
Klemperer, not known for his swiftness, requires 69:16. Interestingly,
Kempe’s performance lasts 76:07 and it is Gardiner (65:48) and
Herreweghe (66:15) to whom Klemperer is closer.
It’s in the first
and last movement that Tennstedt and Klemperer differ most profoundly
in terms of speeds and duration. The first movement bears the
marking “Ziemlich Langsam und mit Ausdruck”, which I believe
translates as “Quite slow and with expression”. My vocal score
(Peters Edition) has no metronome marking but even so I have
great difficulty with the speed adopted by Tennstedt. I make
the speed about crotchet = 54, whereas Klemperer is around crotchet
= 64 and sounds much more natural. Frankly, Tennstedt’s pace
is enervating and the music almost seems becalmed at times.
Fortunately the fine, clear singing of the London Philharmonic
Choir sustains interest.
somewhat in the second movement. Tennstedt gives the slow tread
of “Denn alles Fleisch” the appropriate weight. Having said
that, however, I’d have liked a bit more gentle lift at “Das
gras ist verdorret.” Later in the movement, however, at the
lovely passage “So seid nun geduldig”, Tennstedt is more observant
of the marking “Etwas bewegter” and I enjoyed the transparent
choral tone at this point. The marvellous moment “Aber des Herrn
Wort” is marked Un poco sostenuto and surely Tennstedt
is too broad, too rhetorical here. However, immediately afterwards
the lengthy passage beginning “Die Erlöseten des Herrn” is paced
splendidly and when the choir sing “ewige freude!”, with the
tenors cutting through as they should, it’s convincingly joyful.
The presence of
Thomas Allen is a major attraction. I’m not aware that this
admirable baritone ever recorded this piece commercially. If
not, then this performance fills a major gap in the catalogue.
He sings well, with all the intelligence I’d expect from him.
In his first solo, in the third movement, I thought he was particularly
effective in the passage beginning “Ach, wie gar nichts”, where
he displays firm tone and sings with much expression. Tennstedt
handles this movement very well and the fugue with which it
concludes is driven along with spirit.
The fourth movement,
“Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”, is a wonderful lyrical
piece and Tennstedt and his players and choir do it well. My
only concern was at the passage near the end, “die loben dich
immerdar”, which is somewhat jerkily phrased. The following
movement brings the serene Lucia Popp centre-stage. Her lovely,
expressive performance of this soprano solo reminds us what
a loss was her early death.
The sixth movement
is the most dramatic in the whole work. From the first entry
of the baritone (“Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis”) the tension
should start to build quite significantly, even though the music
remains fairly quiet. Allen sings well enough but I don’t feel
the necessary urgency in the performance overall and that has
to be the conductor’s responsibility. Once the vivace
section is reached at “Denn es wird die Posaune” all is well.
The choir sings with tremendous bite and the drama is properly
realised but I feel Tennstedt’s build up to this point is a
little weak, which is surprising. The long fugue on “Herr, du
bis würdig” has abundant energy and Tennstedt paces it excitingly.
This section can sometimes seem a flog for performers and listeners
alike but Tennstedt and his team are alive to all the dynamics.
That makes such a difference and it enlivens the music, as it
The last movement
starts off very well but when we get to the atmospheric section
at “Ja, der Geist spricht” Tennstedt broadens the tempo. On
its own terms his treatment of the following pages is very good
but I find Klemperer, who maintains his basic pulse, more purposeful
is something of a mixed bag, I think. The execution by singers
and orchestra is very good indeed but, as readers will have
gathered, I don’t find all of Tennstedt’s speeds convincing.
That said, there is too much that is good in the performance
to pass it by and I’m glad to have heard it. The recorded sound
is perfectly acceptable though I had the impression that the
balance favoured the choir somewhat – and I’d like to have heard
more of the horns. As usual with this series no texts or translations
are provided, a failing which still compromises this BBC Legends
series, I’m afraid.
As an admirer of Klaus
Tennstedt I’m pleased to add this performance to my collection
though it would certainly yield to Klemperer and Gardiner as a
library choice for this wonderful work.