BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68; MARTINU: Symphony No. 4, H305 – Radio-Symphonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/ Klaus Tennstedt – ICA Classics ICAC 5090, 76:55 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The legacy of conductor Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1998) receives a major addition in the form of two deeply explored works by the self-taught refuge from the so-called German Democratic Republic. The Brahms Symphony No. 1 (24 September 1976) live from Goeppingen achieves a hearty urgency that Tennstedt’s 1983 commercial recording with the London Philharmonic failed to capture. The virile sonority of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony – long a favorite of the ever-exploratory Sergiu Celibidache – manages a robust intensity in the various string, brass, and woodwind choirs that produces a soaring, exalted Brahms experience even in the midst of its more tragic gestures. The clear links to the Beethoven Ninth and Fifth ethos resonate with extraordinary drama in the first movement. The Stuttgart timpanist alone warrants our fervent awe, especially in concert with the Stuttgart trumpets. Never the literalist time-beater, Tennstedt infuses a flexible rubato into his realization of the softer episodes, then he gathers that inexorable four-note impulse up once more to hurtle forward in a furor of resigned mournful defiance.
Despite its E Major key signature and ¾ time, the Andante sostenuto under Tennstedt emanates a luxurious solemnity and emotional pathos, uttered intently by the oboe in concert with the clarinet and pulsating strings. The spirit of valediction permeates the music, often swelling with dark currents that the French horn and solo violin seem unable to alleviate completely. Once more, the tympanic rolls underneath the strings suggest a wounded spirit, the Brahms equivalent of the Tristan myth. As a Brahms colorist, Tennstedt will win a new appraisal for the ardor of this reading. Tennstedt coaxes a serene geniality from the Allegretto movement, its five-bar phrases sounded in lovely mirrors of each other. The move to B-flat Major invests a fulsome drama into the mix, the winds and horns quite insistent in their climb along with the illuminated strings. The pizzicati rather bubble us back to A-flat Major, where the clarinet leads us gently in the ether. Tennstedt graduates the C Minor Adagio of the finale quite deliberately; strings and tympani provide menace and signs of possible redemption over a firmly ground pedal bass. The trombones make their presence felt, along with a marvelous flute part. With requisite reverence, Tennstedt introduces the C Major theme whose affinity to Beethoven needs no comment, only due piety. The subsequent development and often contrapuntal struggle between largamente and animato elements moves with elastic inevitability, Tennstedt’s surging forth in a manner worthy to compete with those Furtwaengler and Jochum readings that quite set my personal ideals for this epic score. Tennstedt’s athletic rendition rather belies Hugo Wolf’s skepticism in the ability of Brahms to express exaltation in music.
The 1945 Martinu Fourth Symphony in B-flat Major evinces a spirit of optimism, likely as the National Socialist threat dissolved under the combined Allied forces of WW II. Highly syncopated in eighth-note beats and rife with nebulous time signatures that melt into each other via hemiola techniques, the music under Tennstedt (rec. 26 April 1973) maintains a quirky nobility and mercurial energy. The second movement marked Allegro vivo – Moderato – Allegro vivo – may betray some of the tragedy that surrounded Martinu in this period, marked by the deaths of his mother and friend Pavel Haas. Tennstedt instills in this Scherzo a scintillating vitality that verges on militancy but tempered by a degree of ardent lyricism quite unique in contemporary symphonic utterance. The extended Largo forms the heart of the work, an outgrowth of the Czech spirit in Dvorak and Janacek, with modal progressions and transparent textures that assume the form of a mellow and intimate chorale, incandescently rendered. The last movement, Poco allegro, conforms to Martinu’s “cellular” sense of motivic development, building up and increasing the tension by a layered process that hints at a binary sense of form rather than one based on sonata-form development. Visceral colors, resonant entries from the Stuttgart brass and wind choirs, and an unrelenting, elastic tension impel us to a spiritual victory, not “national” so much as personal in its colossal validation.