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Decca Phase 4
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major Romantic (1881 version, ed. Haas) [70:28]
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (1890 version, ed. Nowak) [75:33]
London Philharmonic Orchestra (8)/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 13, 15, 16 December 1981, Philharmonie, Berlin (4); 24-26
September 1982, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (8). DDD
GEMINI 3817612 [70:28 + 75:33]
The last Tennstedt
Gemini release I reviewed -
an all Beethoven affair - was very good. So is this brace
of Bruckner symphonies.
The first disc
contains a strong, passionate performance of Bruckner's popular
Fourth. Tennstedt is free in his tempo fluctuations, but his
view of the score, or rather his journey through it, is compelling.
Throughout, he makes much of the contrasting major and minor
passages and contrasting dynamics in a reading that, more than
most, communicates the drama of a life touched by darkness
and light. There is a noble breadth to the first movement and
martial pride in the scherzo. The andante is gorgeously spun,
but with power and grandeur in the climaxes, where Tennstedt
unleashes the brass to magnificent effect. The finale erupts
from quiet beginnings in a reading of high drama that crowns
his performance. Even though he uses the Haas edition of the
1881 score, Tennstedt slips in the cymbal clash from the 1888
score to cap the wave of music that begins the finale. This
will bother some listeners, but hopefully not enough to preclude
their enjoyment of this genuinely felt performance.
The Berliners produce
a beautiful sound, but this is to be expected. After all, they
were still Karajan's Berliners back then, and they played this
score beautifully for Karajan too on both EMI and Deutsche
Grammophon. Tennstedt gets more from the brass and timpani,
though. For the record (no pun intended), they play this symphony
best of all as Abbado's Berliners in their 1998 recording under
Günter Wand. In any case, while they give Tennstedt the benefit
of their estimable sound, I am not convinced that the orchestra – with
the exception of the brass – genuinely enjoys playing for him.
As good as this
Tennstedt recording is, there are others that better it, including
at least three from Wand – the Berlin account referred to above,
his performance with the Munich Philharmonic recently released
on Profil, and his final
recording made in 2001 with the Cologne Radio Symphony
Orchestra. There is also Klemperer's gritty EMI
traversal which is fabulous; avoid his Vox recording. I
will return to this Tennstedt recording, though, for its drama
and the catharsis of its finale.
I should note that
there is another Tennstedt Bruckner 4 available on the London
Philharmonic Orchestra's own label (LPO 0014). While I have
not heard it, I cannot help but wonder whether the combination
of Tennstedt with the orchestra that loved him and the frisson
of live music-making would make that performance preferable.
Certainly the pairing
of Tennstedt and LPO pays hefty dividends on the second disc
of this Gemini set. This recording of Bruckner's Eighth is
one of the great ones.
I compared it first
with another great Bruckner 8 from the EMI stable, Lorin Maazel's
with the Berlin Philharmonic. Maazel's is a performance of
long arcs that just squeezes onto a single disc. The orchestral
playing is simply stunning, and Maazel's mastery of the score
is everywhere in evidence. And that is perhaps the key to the
difference between these two readings. For Tennstedt, this
is not music to be mastered, but a journey to be shared, in
all of its pain, wistfulness and ultimate defiant triumph.
Where Maazel is intellectually gripping, Tennstedt reaches
for the stars.
The first movement
has a defiant impetus, the drama highlighted by dynamic contrasts
and urgent tempi. The moods of the scherzo slip by like banks
of threatening cloud on a windy day. The growling of the double-basses
is menacing here, but when the light breaks through it is rapturous.
The adagio is intense.
There is more rapture and beauty to be found in this movement,
Karajan and Wand can demonstrate, but for Tennstedt the
adagio is music of the soul's night time which mingles hope
with despair. It may not be gentle, but in its shifting moods
it builds naturally into the most fitting rendition of the
finale on disc. In Tennstedt's hands, this is a movement of
hard fought and grim victory, with the fanfares from the brass
and the pounding of the timpani acting as a call to battle
from the depths of despair. He takes Bruckner at his word in
relation to the “Feierlich” instruction, but heeds the following
words “nicht schnell” less. No matter. He is not over quick
and does drop his pace for the second subject. There are some
moments of real magic: the grand brass chorale at about 14:40,
underpinned by a simply glorious shimmer of the strings, is
but one example. Tennstedt may not plumb the depths of this
score as much as Giulini or bring out its details as consistently
as Karajan, but Tennstedt's performance has a visceral excitement
that is unique.
The recorded sound
is excellent, and the frisson of the performance makes you
believe it was caught live, though the ambience of Abbey Road
Studio No.1 is infinitely preferable to the diffuse Royal Albert
Hall or the dry-sounding Royal Festival Hall. Tennstedt's LPO
may not sound as plush as the Berlin Philharmonic is for Karajan,
Maazel or Wand, but their passion and intensity are never in
doubt. As always, they give 110% for Tennstedt.
EMI is to be commended
on restoring these fine recordings to circulation. There are
plenty more Tennstedt riches in their cupboard. A warm and
long-breathed Dvořák 9, an exciting Pictures at an
Exhibition and a charming Hary Janos all await reissue.
I am also hopeful that recent LPO and BBC Legends releases
indicate that there are more live performances in the archives.
Tennstedt's art was not flawless – his turgid German Requiem proves
that – but he was a true heir of the conducting tradition of
Klemperer and Furtwängler. In my humble opinion, he was an
artist of similar stature.
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