Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1895) [96:15]
Klaus Tennstedt in conversation with Michael Oliver* [5:44]
Waltraud Meier (mezzo)
Eton College Boys Choir
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 5 October 1986, Royal Festival Hall, London; *1987, BBC Studios. ADD
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5033 [59:58 + 42:21]
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.

1979 studio
1986 live

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 entirely appropriate.
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 too long.
John Quinn
Once again, hearing Klaus Tennstedt live in Mahler is a rich and rewarding experience.