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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
CD1
Symphony No 3 in E flat major, Op.55 'Eroica' (1803) [51:01]
The Creatures of Prometheus Overture Op.43 (1801) [4.55]^
Coriolan Overture Op.62 (1807) [8:42]^
Egmont Overture Op.84 (1810) [8:41]^
CD2
Symphony No 6 in F major Op.68 'Pastoral' (1808) [43:02]*
Symphony No 8 in F major Op.93 (1813) [26:05]*
Fidelio Overture Op.72b (1814) [6:45]^
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 26 September, 3 October 1991, Royal Festival Hall, London (live recording); 11-12 May 1984, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London^; 15, 16 & 19 September 1985 and 27 March 1986, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London*. DDD
EMI GEMINI 0946 3 71462 2 4 [73:41 + 76:10] 

 


This is an attractive little compilation that will interest Beethovenians as well as fans of this under-rated conductor. 

Anyone who has only heard Tennstedt's Mahler recordings may well expect that his Beethoven to be characterised similarly by huge tempo fluctuations and deeply personal, mercurial interpretation. Not so. Tennstedt approaches Beethoven's scores with deep respect, genuine affection and an eye for detail. 

There is a lightness of touch to Tennstedt's Pastoral, making for a performance of simple and unaffected joy. The scene by the brook is taken at a near ideal tempo. Sunshine abounds. It is not all light and easy, though. The storm crackles with danger. Tempi are sprightly but not over quick. The playing of the London Philharmonic is alert: no-one is on autopilot here, and Tennstedt is smilingly meticulous in his attention to detail. The woodwinds deserve special praise. Tennstedt, like Klemperer, was always adept at bringing the woodwinds to the fore, and his London Philharmonic pipers revel in the attention. If there are smoother and creamier readings, there are few accounts that are so involved and involving. This is a delightful, affectionate recording, classical in feel, but in an old fashioned way. 

The eighth that follows is cut from similar interpretative cloth. Tennstedt's approach is again classically poised, genial and smiling. He hits the the first movement's off-beat accents with emphasis rather than force, seeking not to shock but to tease. The second movement is wonderfully Haydnesque, the third lyrical. The finale is unbuttoned and exciting, but stops short of becoming an all-out romp. The London Philharmonic again plays beautifully and with grandeur. As with the sixth, this eighth may not blow you away with its revolutionary spirit or energy, but it is a performance to live with, a performance to love. 

Tennstedt's performance of the Eroica has an extra dimension. Certainly the symphony itself is bigger boned and more revolutionary in spirit than either the sixth or the eighth. Moreover, unlike its disc mates, this Eroica was recorded live, and Tennstedt's performance has a palpable sense of occasion. Tennstedt's flowing tempo and the swelling of the strings carry you along in the first movement, which starts genially enough but soon sweeps you up in its drama. The crunching dissonances, with horns and trumpets crying out, hit you like a punch in the guts, just as they should. The funeral march begins quietly, in sorrowful introversion, only to explode into a wild expression of grief. Tennstedt's scherzo is gentle and almost seems to belong the the world of peasant merry-making depicted in the third movement of the Pastoral symphony. The final movement is witty, merry and ultimately triumphant. The applause that follows is well deserved, though I do wish it had been edited out. 

Of recent Eroicas, Vänskä's carefully prepared and powerfully driven performance, coupled with his equally compelling eighth, is a clear first choice for me. As for Pastorals, Thomas Fey's semi-period performance on Hänssler (HN98396) is as exciting as they come, and Haitink's recent LSO Live performance is well worth hearing too. But for an old world view of these scores – a view completely unconcerned with period performance practices – in digital stereo sound, Tennstedt is your man. 

The overtures that fill out this two CD set, benefit from orchestral playing that is sumptuous and full. The woodwinds, as ever with Tennstedt, are fresh and characterful. These are stylish rather than roof-raising renditions, and they none the worse for that. The Creatures of Prometheus Overture sparkles with some wonderfully fleet fingered string playing. The Coriolan Overture receives a darkly dramatic performance. So too does the Egmont Overture, with some majestic horn playing and plenty of thick string tone. It does hang fire a little in places, but it bursts into flame at the final allegro con brio. 

EMI has not remastered the original recordings for this reissue, but the 1980s and early 1990s digital sound offers no cause for complaint. David Nice's liner notes offer a useful evaluation of Tennstedt's Beethoven performances as well as a little information on the music itself. It was a little disconcerting to read them after listening to the discs myself, as I found myself agreeing with Mr Nice's glowing prose. But I do agree and it cannot be helped. Klaus Tennstedt's Beethoven recordings are fresh, lively and lovely. In a world awash with Beethoven recordings, there may be more vigorous, exciting and novel performances to be had. But for such a modest outlay, these performances are sure to be a consistent source of enjoyment. 

Tim Perry 

 


 


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