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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 90 Italian (1833) [26:20]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 Great (1825-28) [50:41]*
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 18-20, 22 April 1980; 21-22 April 1983*, Philharmonie, Berlin. DDD
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5090222 [77:01]
Experience Classicsonline

Little by little, EMI is restoring Klaus Tennstedt's studio recordings to circulation. The company deleted almost all of his recordings from its active catalogue shortly after his death a decade ago, leaving only his studio Mahler cycle and a couple of concerto discs on issue. However, the enthusiasm that has greeted the live Tennstedt recordings recently unearthed by BBC Legends, the LPO house label and Profil has demonstrated that Tennstedt's music-making remains as viscerally powerful and emotionally satisfying now as it ever was. More than that, they have found out a large group of Tennstedt fans who are desperate to get their hands on his recorded legacy.
Tennstedt's recording of Mendelssohn's Italian is a well known quantity. After the previous mid-price issue of this all-Tennstedt coupling was deleted (EMI 64085), his Italian appeared in harness with Muti's recording of the Scottish (EMI Red Line 5729722 and EMI Seraphim 73558). Tennstedt's performance was rightly preferred to the Italian's Italian for that reissue: this is a sparkling performance from first note to last. It breathes the joy of corporate music-making more than any other record Tennstedt made with the Berlin Philharmonic. Tempi are sprightly throughout, underpinning a bustling, effusive first movement and a finale that, though not daemonic, whips by. The strings are highly impressive here, effortlessly dispatching Mendelssohn's rapid figurations at Tennstedt's crackling pace. The lilting second subject of the first movement and both inner movements have a tender lyricism – the strings shine and the tone of the horns – in the third movement in particular – is burnished gold.
Schubert’s 9th makes an apt coupling for Mendelssohn’s 4th – after all, it was Mendelssohn who conducted its first performance.
Tennstedt’s performance has great dramatic sweep and an earthy honesty. His feel for the natural flow of this music is instinctive. Just listen to the first movement: it can sound episodic in lesser hands, but here it moves seamlessly from a broad introduction to a robust conclusion.
The second movement has a rollicking pesante feel, with sharp dynamic contrasts and accents hit so hard as to be almost declamatory. Around the 8 minute mark you would be forgiven for thinking you are listening to Bruckner. This is big, powerfully projected stuff. The third movement scherzo is similar in feel, juxtaposing gruff strings with delicate wind interplay and sighing violin and cello lines, and conjuring a mood that recalls the merrymaking of Beethoven’s Pastoral. The passage about 4 minutes in that seems to anticipate Smetana’s Vltava is infectiously sunny here. The finale is bright and triumphant, and the references to Beethoven’s 9th are confidently projected.
The Berlin Philharmonic’s playing is simply magnificent. The winds are, as always with Tennstedt, brought forward so that their gorgeous interplay can be clearly heard, and the strings remain as sumptuous as ever they were under Karajan. The brass also clearly relish being let off the leash in the tuttis.
Of course, this is hardly the last word in Schubert’s 9th. There are plenty of other wonderful recordings on the books, from the Classical beauty of Krips’ to the towering integrity of Wand. Latterly, performances have been increasingly influenced by period performance practice. Two performances of this ilk that are well worth hearing are Mackerras’s with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Telarc, and Noseda’s dynamic account with the BBC Philharmonic, downloadable from Chandos’ website at a very modest cost. Anyone who heard the latter’s searing performance at the 2006 Proms will doubtless be fired with enthusiasm for this 2003. That said, Tennstedt’s way with this score is personal and deserves to be heard by anyone who loves this symphony.
I should point out that there is another Tennstedt recording of Schubert’s Great C Major in circulation, thanks to BBC Legends. I have not had the opportunity to listen to that recording, but my colleague, Michael Greenhalgh, has reviewed it for this site. I commend to you his comparative analysis of the two recordings.
In summary, Tennstedt’s fans will be glad to be able to snap this disc up. EMI have ensured that they will by releasing it in their super budget Encore range, and in doing so they have made these delightful performances available to novices too.
There are more treasures in the vaults, though. Please EMI, bring back the rest of Tennstedt’s recordings. His hyper-romantic Dvorak 9 and his Brahms and Schumann recordings could easily fill out a Gemini release. And could we please have a box of Tennstedt’s intense live recordings of Mahler's symphonies? Not just 5-7, but CD transfers of 1 and 8 too - hitherto issued only on Laserdisc and DVD!
Tim Perry


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