What a concert this must have been! Tennstedt
was one of the jewels in London’s crown during his tenure
at the LPO. I well remember a stunning Mahler 6 – with no
other works in the concert – at the Festival Hall. On that
occasion I sat in the choir stalls, so I was directly facing Tennstedt
and able to see his every facial expression, his every baton movement
(not to mention my getting intimate with the fourth horn part!).
He gave his all when he conducted, using his whole body to get
the results he wanted. And how the LPO played for him on that
occasion … and how well they play here also, in a programme
of well-loved Czech music.
The Smetana Bartered Bride Overture is given
a punchy, jubilant reading. There is a tangible aura of the theatre
about it – except that the strings articulate the difficult
passage-work better than most pit orchestras would; and the piping,
Czech-rustic woodwind from 5’14 are a delight. Not often
one hears cheers after an overture, especially in London, but
here they are – and richly deserved.
The warmth of the opening cello and horn melody
of Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony is emphasised by the
proximity of the concluding Smetana high-jinks. It is difficult
to imagine this long line more lovingly phrased – it is
positively pliant, yet contains enough energy to enable us to
set sail on this symphonic voyage. The recording is detailed if
Of course live performance enables the conductor
to take risks – so at 4’32 Tennstedt decides to really
languish on the harmonies preceding the return of the first theme.
There is, however, an unaccountable sag in the tension around
the eight-minute mark that should be noted (Tennstedt brings it
back on track a few seconds later – the harmonic arrival
at 8’13 is resplendent).
There is something almost Wagnerian about Tennstedt’s
reading of the Adagio, coupled with a recognition of the Bohemian
aptitude for tone-painting. This movement explores richly varied
emotional terrain, including real drama leading to a tangible
sense of elation at 5’16. The jubilant explosion is nevertheless
carefully balanced by Tennstedt - the bass scales are clearly
articulated. An Allegretto grazioso with a sharp rhythmic profile,
and even some tasteful portamenti, leads to a carefully considered
finale. The opening trumpet call resounds with confidence; the
horn-whoops work as an effect yet are not so over-the-top as to
be elephant impressions (the danger here). The ending has tremendous
force - the aural equivalent to moving into overdrive.
Tennstedt himself seemed to buzz with energy
when he stepped onto the podium, so it is no surprise that there
is no glossing over of Janácek’s more schizoid side
in this blazing account of the Sinfonietta. Try the manic second
movement for this, a dark invocation of barely-controlled panic.
Juxtapositions are stark and all praise should go to the violins,
who play their stratospheric passages better than many studio
The third movement is superb. Not as overtly
Romantic as Belohlávek in a live performance with the Philharmonia
recently in the same venue (review),
Tennstedt instead sees these gestures as just one of many at Janácek’s
disposal that are juxtaposed in this movement. A pity the horn
whoops are lost in the balance (around 4’00 – 4’10).
The outer movements show off the LPO’s
superb brass and timpani players. In the first, remarkably smooth
upper brass slurs contrast with the punchier lower brass and timpani.
The finale builds inexorably from the most delicate evocation
possible from woodwind to a massively uplifting brass and timpani-dominated
Recommended without hesitation.