BBC Legends BBCL 4158, 79:40 (Distrib. Koch) ****:
Culled from concerts 1989-1991, this disc adds to the limited but persuasive number of repertory pieces led by Klaus Tennstedt (1926-1994), who first appeared on the international music scene in 1974, leading the Toronto Symphony as a stand-in for an ailing Karel Ancerl. Long and lean of stature, Tennstedt sported an unsteady beat in the manner of Furtwaengler; and like his distinguished forebear, Tennstedt prided intensity of expression over tonal exactitude. Mahler became a natural outlet for Tennstedt’s romantic, epic sensibility, a battleground of often contradictory emotions. The BBC concerts offer the collector some extraordinary music-making otherwise denied us by Tennstedt’s commercial catalogue.
The disc opens with Weber’s Oberon Overture (30 August 1990), a polished, lingering account which luxuriates in the misty opening bars and then moves purposefully through alternately elfin and muscular phrases. The warmth of the cello section alone commands our attention. The London Philharmonic brass are in fine form for the Beethoven Fifth Symphony, again from 30 August 1990. Thick, creamy sforzati punctuate the various entries of the opening movement’s “fate” motif, and the solo oboe prior to the onrush of the recapitulation stands out like the eye of a colossal storm. Cataracts of sound in the concluding stretti, all the lines moving to an architecturally conceived end. The tympani rolls will knock you out; and the audience is ready to burst on the final chord.
The entire Andante con moto unfolds with broad nobility of line, the suspended cadences anticipating the mysteries in Mahler and the late Romantics. The LPO winds turn their variation into a momentary serenade before trumpets and tympani remind us of the metaphysical stake we have in this music. The phrasing consistently reminds me of Fricsay’s equally nuanced account from the 1950s. A sweeping Scherzo and Trio, the flute rising above impassioned celli and string stretti, the combination of humor and pizzicato menace delicately palpable. The transition to the rousing finale possesses the same dramatic fervor we find in Furtwaengler, Giulini, either Kleiber, and Cantelli. Seamless transitions, exalted, even sensuous arches of sound, all contribute to a forceful labor of love whose cumulative power whips the audience into an appreciative frenzy for this virtuoso performance.
The Egmont Overture (26 September 1991) under Tennstedt exudes a gloom and final resurgence of spirit close to the spirit of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. Relentless, energized tension marks every bar. Beethoven’s C Major Symphony (14 December 1989) dances a tender balance of subjective intensity from Tennstedt and Beethoven’s clean, exuberant, classical lines. Listen to Tennstedt linger over the first movement string trill; and once again, the LPO tympanist is on a mission to make his presence known. The textural richness of the Andante cantabile exudes a late-romantic fervor, eminently Viennese. A hefty Menuetto leads to a Rossini-light Allegro molto e vivace, the strings shimmering and winds piping for all they are worth, the ubiquitous LPO tympanist determined to prove that Beethoven should have written a concerto for his instrument.