WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: CDU 5 65390 2 DDD
Here are live performances by one of Britain’s finest orchestras under its most recent music directors, the sadly missed Tennstedt, and his replacement, Welser-Möst, soon off to the calm of Zurich after a mauling by the London critics. Sadly for him, the comparison here only emphasises the tragic scarcity of Tennstedt on the concert platform. What impresses in his Eroica is his control, for he is by no means easy to read on the podium – his commitment and involvement in the music often distort the choreography of his beat. Take the opening of the Scherzo, where totally unified string staccatos will have you on the edge of your seat (and in the Trio the second horn plays the notorious descending arpeggio with ease). Contrapuntal episodes have immaculate clarity of line, climaxes are impeccably judged throughout, and the end is thrilling. Why this definitive interpretation comes with Mussorgsky is unclear; no matter, for the latter also gets a dramatic and lyrical reading.
Karajan always said of unblooded conductors, ‘he needs seven years in Ulm’, and Welser-Möst will no doubt reappear after seven in Zurich (though the Swiss city is not quite the implied German backwater). His reading of the Fifth is patchy, mostly swift and breathless, yet occasionally spacious and musical. No doubt in 20 years time he will have had further thoughts. Sound on the Eroica is excellent, but the Fifth is bass-strong and rather woolly. Christopher Fifield