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
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
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.