Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op. 68 [48:56]
Symphony No 3 in F major, Op. 90*[35:34]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. live, 14 October 1992, *7 April 1983, Royal Festival Hall, London. ADD
LPO-0068 [48:56 + 35:34]
Klaus Tennstedt never recorded Brahms’ Third symphony commercially so it’s good to have a live recording of him conducting it. The ‘blurb’ that I received with these discs states that neither recording has been issued previously but in fact that’s incorrect. The performance of the Third appeared on the BBC Legends label and I reviewed that disc back in 2006. Listening to the performance again I don’t find that my view of it has changed. The sense of purpose with which Tennstedt approaches the first movement is very pleasing. I still find the treatment of the andante is serious – that’s not a criticism – but this time round I took more note, I think, of the way in which Tennstedt and the LPO ensure that the music sings warmly. The finale is successful: there’s excellent energy in the first half of the movement and the extended, autumnal coda is very well done. In these pages Brahms not only brings the movement full circle but also, through the woven-in references to the first movement, he brings the whole symphony home in a very satisfying way. Tennstedt gives full value to this lovely music while never being self-indulgent.
So far as I know the claim that the performance of the First symphony is new to the catalogue is correct. However, there’s another competing Tennstedt version on the BBC Legends label. Furthermore there’s also an EMI commercial recording, made in November 1983, though I believe that currently that’s only available in a big box of Tennstedt’s EMI recordings (review). Reviewing that box, my colleague, Ralph Moore, rightly drew attention to the “large scale” of Tennstedt’s interpretation of the symphony. I haven’t heard that studio version but Ralph’s description certainly holds good for the BBC Legends reading. This dates from May 1990 and I reviewed the performance in 2009.
Nowhere is the large scale of the interpretation more apparent than in the introductions to the first and last movements, both of which are imposingly rhetorical; there are pounding timpani at the start of the first movement while the big horn call in the finale is full of dramatic moment. Yet that rhetorical trait is not overdone and in both cases these passages are upbeats, if you will, to thrusting accounts of the main body of the movement. That’s particularly true of the first movement – some may find the unfolding of the famous Big Tune in the finale a touch too spacious, and when it appears later on Tennstedt is even a touch more expansive, I fancy. However, Tennstedt’s interpretations have an inner strength that I, for one, find convincing. I still appreciate the leaner, tauter approach of Gardiner (review) or Mackerras but the revelations of their interpretations shouldn’t mean we forsake the more traditional ways with this score and Tennstedt’s is an excellent example of all that’s good about the traditional approach. In between these two large scale movements the inner movements come off well too. The Andante sostenuto is warmly phrased and played and there are some fine solo contributions from various LPO principals. All in all, this is a satisfying and rewarding performance of the symphony.
As we’re reminded so often with the live Tennstedt recordings which have been issued in recent years, the LPO used to play their hearts out for him and these two performances are no exception to that rule.
The sound is good on both recordings. They are stated to be BBC Radio 3 recordings. However, I’m advised that this is incorrect and that, in fact, the recording of the First symphony comes from the LPO’s archives.
If you have either of the BBC Legends recordings you probably don’t need this set, especially in the case of the Third symphony, since that’s a straight duplicate. However, if you don’t have Tennstedt’s live performances of these symphonies in your collection then acquiring them will offer two opportunities to hear a great conductor in action.
John Quinn
Acquiring these live performances will offer two opportunities to hear a great conductor in action.

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