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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 1 in C Minor, Op, 68 (1876) [46:54]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1845) [32:55]
Jorge Bolet (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 6 May 1990 (Brahms) 7 October 1984 (Schumann) ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL4251-2 [79:58]
Experience Classicsonline

Klaus Tennstedt, a conductor I greatly admire, left a frustratingly small commercial discography, especially when one discounts his EMI Mahler cycle. So it’s good that a number of his live performances have been issued on disc in recent years, particularly by BBC Legends. Some of the performances issued have been of works that Tennstedt never took into the studio, such as Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass (see review) and those are welcome for filling out our picture of this conductor. However, even when a live release duplicates, on the face of it, a studio recording - as is the case here with the Brahms symphony - it’s still valuable to hear Tennstedt address the work in question in concert, not least because in the estimation of several critics his live performances had more electricity and spontaneity to them than he sometimes brought to his studio work. Tennstedt recorded the Brahms symphony for EMI in 1983. I don’t know if that account, which I have not heard, is still available.

The introduction to the first movement in this present performance unfolds with a Klemperer-like massiveness, the pace slow, the timpani pounding. Frankly, I feared that I was not going to enjoy what followed and I was reminded of the reservations about slow speeds that I’d felt when reviewing Tennstedt’s account of Ein deutches Requiem. Happily, after Tennstedt has got the introduction out of his system he plays the rest of the symphony in a way that is much more to my taste. The main allegro of the first movement is moved forward with good purpose and the necessary degree of energy. Tennstedt is particularly concerned, it seems, to bring out the drama in the writing but this is not done at the expense of the lyrical elements in the music.

That’s confirmed by a sturdy yet warm reading of the slow movement. Here, as elsewhere, the LPO play very well indeed for their revered conductor and there’s some fine work from the leader and the principal horn in the closing pages. Tennstedt’s feeling for drama comes out again in the introduction to the finale. Though his speed is no more broad than that adopted by many conductors, he manages to invest the music with a great sense of space. The big horn-calls ring out across this space magnificently and I love the way Tennstedt gets the horns to crescendo slightly through each sustained note. When the Big Tune arrives in the main allegro Tennstedt ensures it’s delivered with just the right amount of weight and he leads a committed and exciting account of the finale, culminating in an exultant coda. Though this wouldn’t necessarily be a library choice for this much-recorded symphony it’s a fine performance overall and one that I’m glad to add to my collection.

Basically, the same verdict applies to the performance of the Schumann concerto. I have to be honest and say that this is a work which I’ve never found desperately interesting, though I’m sure the fault is mine rather than Schumann’s since the piece enjoys enduring popularity with pianists and audiences. Jorge Bolet is a fine soloist and seems to enjoy a good rapport with Tennstedt, who accompanies well. A review of the concert is quoted in the booklet note in which Bolet’s performance was described as “thoughtful… the antithesis of what might have been expected from a virtuoso hitherto perhaps best known here for his commanding brilliance in Liszt.” I know what the unnamed reviewer was getting at for Bolet was indeed celebrated as an exponent of Liszt. However, what that comment perhaps overlooks is that Liszt’s piano output contains many reflective, poetic pieces. It seems to me that in this Schumann performance Bolet has all the requisite pianistic armoury to do justice to the virtuoso passages but he’s also well equipped to be successful in the poetic stretches of the concerto. I’d agree with the verdict that his performance is “thoughtful” and it certainly gives much pleasure.

Both of these performances are captured in good quality BBC sound and this enjoyable disc can be recommended with confidence to admirers of either of the two fine artists involved.

John Quinn 


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