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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 5 in C minor, Op. 67* [33’08”]
Symphony No 1 in C major, Op. 21** [25’39”]
Egmont: Overture, Op. 84*** [9’19”]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon: Overture* [9’59”]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
Rec: *Royal Albert Hall, London, 30 August 1990; **Royal Festival Hall, London, 14 December 1989; *** Royal Festival Hall, London, 26 September 1991. ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4158-2 [79’42”]


With every batch of releases issued this BBC Legends series seems to me to become increasingly valuable. A particular strength is the regularity with which the label issues performances by great artists of works that were important in their repertoire but which they never recorded commercially. They have already given us several very welcome releases that expand the discography of Klaus Tennstedt and this latest release carries on that good work.

Tennstedt made a commercial recording of only one of the four works included here, the Egmont Overture. By a sad irony the Oberon Overture was the last work that he ever conducted in public, in July 1994.

The most substantial work is the Beethoven Fifth. This performance is robust and strongly projected. It’s a muscular, big-band performance, very suitable for the big spaces of the Royal Albert Hall. In saying that, however, I mustn’t give the impression that subtlety is absent from the reading, for that is not the case. The first movement is very powerfully argued, the music underpinned, as is the case throughout the symphony, by a very firm and imposing bass line. The approach is weighty but the rhythms have life. Tennstedt drives the symphonic argument forward with great purpose and drama. This is a performance with fire in its belly.

The slow movement is quite expansive but still the tempo flows nicely. However, the martial climax (track 3, 6’09”) is perhaps a bit too broad. In the third movement Tennstedt doesn’t quite achieve (perhaps he doesn’t aim for) the tension that some other conductors attain in the sepulchral passages for low strings and bassoons. On the other hand the horn fanfares ring out quite splendidly. The three big chords that open the finale (track 5, 0’00” and again at 4’28”) are very broad and rhetorical. Personally I find this a rather grandiose effect but I think it can be forgiven in the context of the occasion. The remainder of the movement is full of heroic energy and brio. Everything culminates in an electrifying, jubilant coda that, not surprisingly, brings the house down.

This, then, is a bold, red-blooded Fifth. It wouldn’t be a first recommendation but it’s a welcome reminder of a great and wholehearted conductor at his dynamic best and is very well worth hearing.

The First Symphony starts with a lithe account of the main allegro. Again there’s abundant energy on display. The second movement is given a well-paced, admirably straightforward reading while the scherzo is lively even though the pace is not frenetic. I must say, however, that I’ve heard more explosive accounts of this movement. Perhaps the finale doesn’t quite scamper like some readings that one has heard but it’s still well done. Overall this is a good, enjoyable performance, albeit not as distinctive as that of the Fifth.

Egmont suits Tennstedt down to the ground. The introduction is trenchant and tough-minded. The main allegro is just a shade more deliberately paced than we often hear. However, as with the Fifth Symphony, Tennstedt imparts suitable weight and brings out the drama keenly as a result. I don’t know whether it’s a quirk of the microphone placing or a deliberate effect but the first flute keeps cutting through the texture, which I like. The coda (track 6, 7’38”) blazes. It’s fast, fiery and exalted and is all the more exciting after the slightly deliberate pacing of the preceding music. This is a fine performance of one of Beethoven’s best overtures. As is the case throughout the works on this CD the LPO’s response for their chief is never less than fully committed.

The overture to Oberon reminds us of Tennstedt’s operatic experience earlier in his career. The introduction is atmospheric (though ensemble is occasionally a little less than 100%). Some may find the tempo for big clarinet tune (track 1, 4’24”) is just too indulgently broad – but, then, it is such a good tune! The whole performance exudes conviction, but then that was true of everything that Tennstedt conducted.

This is a very fine and enjoyable disc. The performances are all of very high quality and are captured in good, reliable BBC stereo sound. David Patmore contributes a useful note. Above all the disc is to be valued for giving us four more examples of the integrity and commitment of a great conductor whose international career was all-too brief. Admirers of Klaus Tennstedt, among whom I unashamedly count myself, need not hesitate. This is the second excellent disc of his performances that BBC Legends have issued this year. I hope there will be lots more.

Strongly recommended.

John Quinn 

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