Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor (1902)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. ‘live’ 13 December 1988, Royal Festival Hall, London
Region Code: 0; Picture Format: 4:3; DVD Format: NTSC
ICA CLASSICS ICAD 5041 [76:09]
This performance has been available in audio format for quite some time. I acquired it as an EMI CD ages ago (CDC 7 49888 2) and have always regarded it extremely highly. Recently, I see it was included in a boxed set of Tennstedt’s Mahler recordings which was enthusiastically greeted by Ralph Moore. Unlike Ralph, I’ve not heard the conductor’s earlier, 1978 studio version though I was interested to see that Ralph expressed a preference for that version. That, I can well imagine, is tidier – I note that it was set down over three separate and quite widely-spaced sets of sessions, whereas the version captured here is truly live, with no opportunities for re-takes or edits. Actually, given Ralph’s comments I think it was enlightened of EMI to include live and studio versions of several symphonies in that set.
The present live version documents Tennstedt’s final performance of this symphony in London and it is, in a word, superb even if there are a few minor slips along the way that would have been corrected under studio conditions. I can honestly say, however, that in terms of errors there’s nothing to mar the enjoyment of the performance and I doubt very much if Tennstedt and his hugely committed players would have been able to recreate quite the same electricity in the studio. Incidentally, it’s worth recording, I think, just how demonstrably committed are the members of the LPO not just to the music but also to their former Music Director. At the end the applause given by the players to Tennstedt is very warm indeed; it seems to go way beyond conventional courtesy, indicating genuine respect and affection.
Typically, Tennstedt digs deep right from the very start of I. The funeral march is broadly conceived but, for me, the pacing is ideal. It’s a gripping reading from start to finish, full of tension, with every detail precisely weighted. In II there is, again, great intensity. At times the music is scalding but Tennstedt also relaxes where it’s appropriate.
The reading of the big central scherzo is extrovert, even ebullient and Tennstedt gives the lyrical passages their full value. The unnamed principal horn player is excellent – to be honest he deserved to be credited but neither ICA, nor EMI on the CD release, does so. Tennstedt dispenses with his baton for the Adagietto and instead conducts with very expressive hands. It’s a slow and deeply felt reading and the LPO strings – and the harpist – are wonderfully eloquent. Those who believe that Tennstedt’s Mahler is hyper-intense and full of angst should watch him conduct the finale. I wouldn’t say he’s wreathed in smiles – that wasn’t his nature – but the conductor, though still intensely wrapped up in the music, gives every indication of enjoying himself. Certainly, he leads a virtuoso performance that’s exuberant and full of energy. As the end approaches the great chorale shines brilliantly and the conclusion of the symphony is tumultuous – as is the ovation that follows.
At the end Tennstedt was clearly spent but also delighted both with his orchestra’s response and with the huge ovation from the audience. Yet his reaction shows, above all, humility; this great Mahler interpreter was no showman but, rather, put himself at the service of the music.
For some reason it appears that the BBC waited three years after the performance before broadcasting it in December 1991. I may have seen that broadcast – or a subsequent repeat – because I’ve seen this performance before but the extra definition of the DVD pictures is very rewarding The BBC camerawork is excellent – as is the picture quality and the shrewd and sympathetic approach of director Kriss Rumanis means that viewers get an excellent perspective on Tennstedt at work though the photography is never obtrusive.
As I viewed this DVD I glanced at the booklet and found that, by sheer coincidence, I was watching on 13 December, in other words twenty-three years to the day since this performance was given. Somehow that seemed rather fitting. Klaus Tennstedt was a great Mahler conductor and this DVD is a splendid visual record of him directing a blazing performance of the Fifth Symphony.
A splendid visual record of a great Mahler conductor directing a blazing performance.