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alternatively Crotchet

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no. 6 in F op. 68 “Pastoral” [43:03]
Symphony no. 8 in F op. 93 [26:16]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 27 March 1986 (no. 6), 15, 16 and 19 September 1985 (no. 8), No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS 5089932 [69:19]
Experience Classicsonline

In the dying days of the LP you could pick up amazing bargains and my copy of what was then almost a new digital recording still bears the price-tag of 9,500 liras (about £3). My recollections are of a bland “Pastoral” and an 8th with some odd tempi. I haven’t played it for years, so it was interesting to catch up with it in CD format.

The first movement of the “Pastoral” gets a straight-down-the-line reading with big-band sound, smooth phrasing, sometimes ragged playing, occasional spurts of enthusiasm and no apparent love for the music. The “Brook” opens with some promising phrasing, then a rallentando and an unconvincing pick-up suggest this will be a fidgety reading. A few minutes in, however, it settles down, with just the right sort of lazy summer afternoon feeling combined with unending flow. Tennstedt’s balancing is acute, with the syncopated wind chords all clear without being obtrusive. From here onwards, most of this movement is as good as I’ve heard.

The scherzo is less fine, moderately paced, reasonably lilting but never making you want to dance with it. The “Storm” is fairly deliberate but here Tennstedt finds something to suit his temperament and unleashes terrific power. The final “Shepherd’s Hymn” is grandiose and finds considerable vitality at a slowish pace. Mostly it’s magnificent but unfortunately Tennstedt lets the last pages sag instead of simply wind down in tempo. A few years earlier Boult, with this same orchestra, gave an object lesson on how to do that.

The first movement of no. 8 is triumphantly fine when the music is striding forward purposefully, “Eroica”-style. Tension sags when other moods take over. I had remembered the Allegretto as being disconcertingly fast. A lot of Historically Informed Practice has gone under the bridge since then and it now sounds brisk but not unreasonable. I should have thought, though, that such a swift tempo would need a leaner orchestral sound. I never greatly cared for Monteux’s very fast performance of this movement – which I see is only a few seconds shorter than Tennstedt – but he does prove the point about a slimmer texture making it work, so if you want a fast Allegretto in the context of an old-fashioned-style performance, that’s where to go.

I also remembered the Menuetto being very slow, and this hasn’t changed. It has a certain stately lilt but is too insistently ceremonious for me. There’s nothing really wrong with the finale but it delivers little. Indicative is that crucial moment towards the end where the music has got into the “wrong” key and is wrenched back by the trumpets and drums. You hardly notice it here. Interesting that this symphony needed three days to set down, the “Pastoral” only one.

Hardly an urgent recommendation, then. Those with large Beethoven collections might feel it worth adding for those movements where Tennstedt offers some illumination. Tennstedt admirers will want it for these same movements – or disagree with me anyway. This style of performance calls for comparison with older versions. Klemperer, Böhm and Cluytens in the “Pastoral” have been praised down the years. Less touted, Boult probably belongs among them. Munch is gorgeous if you don’t worry about repeats – even the scherzo is pared down. For the 8th I’d put in a word for two versions made in Cleveland, under Szell and – more surprisingly – Kubelik.

Christopher Howell 

See also Review by Owen Walton



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