Over the last few years a series of live recordings has emerged
of Klaus Tennstedt conducting the Mahler symphonies. All have
enhanced my appreciation of him as a Mahler interpreter of great
stature. EMI led the way in this respect, followed by BBC Legends
and then by the LPO’s own label. Without exception these
recordings have added a new dimension to his interpretations
over and above the considerable achievements of his studio-based
complete cycle for EMI. Now ICA Classics add to the ‘live’
Tennstedt canon with this 1986 performance of the Third Symphony.
I’ve heard nearly all the live recordings so far issued
- the exceptions being the EMI accounts of the Sixth and Seventh,
though I have heard alternative recordings of these symphonies
on the LPO and BBC Legends labels respectively. It seems to
me that the live readings have an extra degree of electricity
as compared with their studio equivalents. Tennstedt set down
a studio recording of the Third in October 1979 and it’s
interesting to compare the timings.
In all honesty the playing times aren’t all that different,
other than in the first and last movements - and the track for
the sixth movement includes some 30 seconds of applause in the
1986 recording. The basic pulse for Tennstedt’s performance
of the finale is marginally broader in 1986 but where differences
arise it’s more a question of a slight nudge or easing
of the tempo here and there. Differences are only to be expected:
as Tennstedt remarks in his conversation with Michael Oliver,
which mainly concerns the Sixth Symphony, his conception of
each symphony remained “fixed” but his interpretations
were never the same. As he put it, Mahler composed life in his
music and life is always changing.
The key, however, lies in the last sentence of Michael McManus’s
booklet note in which he says of the two recordings of the Third
“The track timings may be remarkably similar to those
of the studio recording, but there is a heightening of ardour
that cold numbers could never capture.”
The huge first movement is delivered with the intensity that
one almost invariably finds in a Tennstedt performance, especially
of Mahler. The LPO responds to his direction with playing that
is acute and alive - the brass section is on superb form while
the woodwind playing is deft and characterful. The rhetorical
trombone solos, such a key feature of this movement, are powerful
and sonorous. In a vast movement such as this, which can sprawl
in lesser hands, Tennstedt’s ability to keep the bigger
picture in view, while paying proper attention to detail at
all times, is vital. The music is tumultuous at times but one
never feels that the conductor’s control slips. Incidentally,
one small but significant presentational point is that ICA allows
a good gap between each of the first four movements; for example
there’s just over twenty seconds between the end of the
first movement and the start of the next one.
In II Tennstedt displays lightness of touch and obtains a good
deal of affectionate playing from the orchestra. He brings out
the quirky awkwardness of the music in III, which is expertly
pointed. When the post-horn interludes are reached the solo
instrument is magically distanced. In these episodes Tennstedt
achieves a fine degree of nostalgia without overdoing the sentimentality.
Each of these passages is excellent but the final one is particularly
hushed and delicate.
Waltraud Meier is an expressive soloist in IV but in the following
movement she perhaps overdoes the vibrato a little and her solo
passages are too effusive in tone for my taste. On the other
hand, the choral singing is delightfully lively and fresh and,
where required, the boys produce a robust sound that’s
Tennstedt’s account of the finale is noble and spacious.
Comparing it with his studio reading one finds that the basic
tempo is a fraction slower, though the difference is not significant.
The string playing in the opening paragraphs is first class.
As the movement progresses
Tennstedt finds the requisite depth of expression but the emotion
is never excessive. The conductor’s judgement of pace
seems unerring - one is reminded that he was also a fine Bruckner
conductor. Tennstedt’s great concentration and inspired
playing by the LPO combine in a memorable performance of this
eloquent adagio and the final pages (from 19:06) are majestic.
ICA has used a BBC recording under licence and the sound is
very good. At the end of the second disc we can hear a short,
interesting conversation between Tennstedt and Michael Oliver
in which the conductor talks about his approach to Mahler. Though
the principal emphasis is on the Sixth symphony what he has
to say is of relevance to his way with Mahler in general and
it’s well worth hearing.
Once again, hearing Klaus Tennstedt live in Mahler is a rich
and rewarding experience. I shan’t be parting with his
EMI studio recording but this concert performance now supplants
it. Now we only lack live Tennstedt recordings of the Fourth
and Ninth symphonies and of Das Lied von der Erde. Let
us hope that there are recordings lying in the vaults somewhere
and that, if there are, these will see the light of day before