BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – London Philharmonic/ Klaus Tennstedt – BBC Legends

by | Feb 16, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – London Philharmonic/ Klaus Tennstedt 

BBC Legends BBCL 4167-2,  73:18 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

Visceral readings of standard symphonic repertory by Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998), whose health had already been affected at the times of these concerts, the Beethoven (22 November 1989) revealing no indication of the energy-sapping throat cancer which eventually took the conductor’s life. In 1983, Tennestedt had been appointed Music Director of the London Philharmonic, succeeding Georg Solti. The Brahms Third Symphony, like the Beethoven 7th a work he did not record commercially, comprises part of that celebratory season (7 April 1983), in which it formed a part of an all-Brahms evening that featured Radu Lupu in the D Minor Piano Concerto.

The Beethoven Seventh became part of Tennstedt’s standard repertory early in his relatively short career: he programmed it with the Boston Symphony in 1977, the New York Philharmonic in 1992, and with the LPO in 1989. Tennstedt elicits marvelous response in his strings and horns for the first movement, which one called “a Dionysian affirmation of life.”  The tragic Andante unfolds as a ceaseless orison, almost Wagnerian in its expansive ethos. The plucked strings in its trio section could be heartbeats. The oboe weaves a seductive line at the da capo; the strings are diaphanously transparent for the fugal episode, and then rise to stirring peroration of what may well be a “fate” motif. At the Presto, Tennstedt picks up the Jovian, dancing thunderbolts and does not relinquish his reins on the chariot of frenzy until the last notes sound at the finale.  Aggressive horns and tympani in the trio, as if Triton were eager to move back into the throes of revelry. For the last movement, Tennstedt might well be leading the score with Thor’s hammer. The LPO gains increased momentum with each repetition of the rhythmic impulse, the flute and horns dancing but inexorably swept into the maelstrom, the double basses playing for all their worth. Horns and tympani conspire to decapitate all but the most secure heads. Quite wild!

Tennstedt’s Romantic temperament found a kindred spirit in Brahms, as he had in Mahler; each composer seemed to urge from him a deep-rooted expression and elastic passion. The F Minor/F Major ambiguities of the Brahms Third obviously appeal to Tennstedt’s own sense of human mortality. Tennstedt avoids the first movement repeat, opting for a magisterial and ineluctable, fluid continuity to the waltz-motif that soon dissipates into a somber, horn-dominated evocation of the main theme for the recapitulation.  The long, graduated transitions will recall to collectors their favorite moments by Jochum and Furtwaengler in this music. The coda reaches a fever pitch before evaporating into the F-A-F motto, whose character might resemble that of the Cheshire Cat.  Loving, molded phrases mark the Andante, among my favorite movements in the Brahms oeuvre; here, the woodwinds and horns achieve a cathedral effect. The bucolic reminiscences yield to a powerful, nostalgic yearning. Listen to those violas and cellos for the series of sequences back and forth, a tragic lullaby.  Oboe and French horn collaborate most effectively for the haunted Poco Allegretto, whose cadences all seem to weep with valedictory emotion. You can palpably feel the tension in the air as the final Allegro unfolds, waiting for the horns and tympani to rip through the fabric of routine. Ensues another thrilling ride from Tennstedt, assisted by smooth articulation from the LPO string complement. The martial and the melancholy soon mix in Tennstedt’s feverish crucible to white heat, as least inasmuch as Brahms is able to cut the rope around his own emotions. Smooth, elegant transitions to the melancholy plane, the opening motif and horn call making a perfect circle in what is one noble performance, a fine momento mori for admirers of this gifted interpreter.

–Gary Lemco

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