Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (17701827)
Egmont overture, Op. 84 (1809/10) [9.22]
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 Pastoral (1808/09) [45.55]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. live, 26 December 1991 (Egmont), 21 February 1992 (Pastoral), Royal Festival Hall, London

Here are two live archive recordings from the early 1990s of Tennstedt's ‘EgmontOverture and Symphony No. 6 newly released on the London Philharmonic Orchestra's (LPO's) own label.

Beethoven wrote the incidental music to Goethe’s heroic tragedy Egmont in 1809/10 with the Overture composed last. In effect it’s a small-scale symphonic poem describing the action of the play set at the time of the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands. It depicts Count Egmont’s resistance, his subsequent arrest and execution. Tennstedt pushes his London players hard. He gives as bold and determined an account as I have heard and imbued with a sense of a urgency.

Tennstedt's episode of the Radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’ (where he is interviewed by Sue Lawley) is available on the BBC iPlayer. Of his 'allocation' of eight recordings the first he chose was Beethoven’s Pastoral in a studio recording he had conducted with the LPO on EMI Classics. Tennstedt explained that although the score was not technically difficult it was challenging for an orchestra to bring off well and he was delighted by the Philharmonic’s wonderful playing. Bursting into the limelight rather late in the day Tennstedt’s international reputation was gained with a series of sensational concerts mainly in core Romantic and late-Romantic Austro-German repertoire. These won him a legion of loyal followers. Debuting with the LPO in 1977 Tennstedt returned regularly before his appointment as principal conductor and music director in which capacity he served from 1983 to 1987. Tennstedt said glowingly of the LPO that he could think of no orchestra in the world that could play better.

It was uncommon for Beethoven to journey into programme music but he did so with his Pastoral one of the most enduringly popular works in the repertoire. Completed in 1808 and dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Rasumovsky, Beethoven saw the five movement work as praise to God. “More of an expression of feelings than painting”, the music suggested an eventful and picturesque journey through the countryside. Recorded live at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Tennstedt here gives a gripping reading of this life-enhancing score and his players respond with equal relish. The opening movement an ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country’ is gloriously impressive, with characterful playing that evokes a vivid and appealing Viennese rural scene. Tennstedt ensures plenty of forward momentum in ‘The scene by the brook’ quite ravishingly performed, full of engaging character. The orchestra’s uplifting playing of the Scherzo - a ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ is easy to savour with delightfully sprung rhythms recalling rustic dancing and merriment. It's all evocative of a scene from a Pieter Bruegel painting. Noticeable throughout is the sense of involvement Tennstedt draws from his devoted players, They make the most exquisite sounds: stunning fortissimos, extraordinary beautiful pianissimos and generous passion.

Beethoven continues to be wonderfully served by a substantial number of excellent recordings. Tennstedt’s stunning account of the Pastoral is a match for any in the catalogue including the powerful 1971 Musikverein, Vienna account from Karl Böhm and the Wiener Philharmoniker. Böhm’s now ‘classic’ version is available on a single disc or as part of a set of the nine symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon. I have grown extremely fond of Sir Charles Mackerras’s insightful live 2006 account employing the lighter forces of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Recorded at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh the account is available as part of a complete set of the symphonies on Hyperion. Released in 2013 I also admire the boldly expressive 2012 live account from Munich’s Herkulessaal by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons. This forms part of Jansons’s BR Klassik set of the complete symphonies supplemented by six new orchestral commissions titled ‘The Symphonies and Reflections’.

Recorded live in 1991 and 1992 at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London the sound team ensures excellent sound, clear and well balanced, with plenty of orchestral detail. Both audiences are extremely well behaved with barely any extraneous sound. The applause has been left in following Egmont but not after the Pastoral.

Testimony to the artistry of Klaus Tennstedt and London Philharmonic Orchestra this commanding release serves the music of Beethoven with immense credit.

Michael Cookson

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