Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Coriolan overture, op. 62 (1807) [9:29]
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67 (1807-8) [32:53]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, London, 30 August 1990 (Symphony), Royal Festival Hall, London, 23 February 1992 (Overture)
LPO LPO-0087 [42:22]
This reissue sees one of my favourite performances of this famous work back in circulation. It was on a Lake District youth group holiday in August 1990 that I heard the live broadcast with two other youth leaders. We were transfixed by the music and the excitement has stayed with me since. One of my wife’s cousins was at The Proms that night and he was deeply impressed. Incidentally the first half was Alfred Brendel playing Brahms' First Piano Concerto so, it was quite a night. It’s also the only recording I’m aware of with Tennstedt conducting Beethoven’s Fifth; there is no EMI studio version.
The Overture to Heinrich von Collin’s tragedy "Coriolanus" prompted a great overture but for me Tennstedt’s performance here is underwhelming. It starts without conviction and in certain parts sounds hectoring. Being unfair, I played a 1947 Furtwängler live recording — various labels but mine is on Andromeda ANDRCD 9093 (6 CDs) — and was absolutely blown away. For sure this recording is mono, seventy years old and has some annoying coughs but I find it a much greater experience. Whilst I appreciate the present disc’s modest price, these recordings are 25 years old and it would have been better to fill out the disc with the original BBC Legends’ coupling of the First Symphony.
Heaven knows how many times or versions one hears of Beethoven’s Fifth but this first class performance blows one away. Right from those opening bars there is a real feeling of an occasion such as concert series like The Proms bring. There is a pulse throughout the first movement and the brass in particular shine through. It's all well captured by the BBC engineers despite the problems presented by the Royal Albert Hall. The Andante con Moto follows, lead by the strings. Here the odd audience noise can be heard but this is in no way a distraction. The main theme is so powerfully executed but there is a humanity to it all, which is one of the appealing aspects of Tennstedt.
Played at a decent volume one can recreate the sensation of that evening. I recall when I heard the live broadcast how impressed I was and hearing this again, I still am. The Allegro seems perfectly paced before the drama of the transfer into the Allegro positivo. The final triumph radiates real emotion. The London Philharmonic must be given special praise here; I was aware of their loyalty to Tennstedt and this shines through to the supreme finale. The applause, or at least a short amount, is left in and rightly so.
This is a wonderful version of a much performed work. It will always be special and whilst the disc is short in mere playing time the price is modest. This Beethoven Fifth will appeal to all lovers of this conductor and to those who look for the life-enhancing and the thought-provoking in music-making.
David R Dunsmore
Previous review: Michael Greenhalgh