WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8′ Symphony No. 9; Adagio from Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Edith Mathis, Doris Soffel, Ortrun Wenkel, Lucia Popp, Elizabeth Connell, Edith Wiens, Felicity Lott, Trudeliese Schmidt, Nadine Denize, Richard Versalle, Jorma Hynninen, Hans Sotin; Southend Boys Choir, Tiffin School Boys Choir, LPO & Choir/Klaus Tennste
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 72941 2 ADD/DDD Reissue (1978-87)
As Kurt Masur prepares to take over the helm of the London Philharmonic, much has been made of his ties with the late Klaus Tennstedt. Yet Masur’s lithe, clean-textured and slightly impersonal way with Mahler is poles apart from Tennstedt’s demanding brand of intensity; the name to watch as his spiritual heir is surely Christoph Eschenbach, who gave a white-heat performance of the Sixth Symphony with the orchestra earlier this season. In the meantime, this reissue of Tennstedt’s LPO Mahler – missing only a fine Lied von der Erde, first issued at the same time as the initial CD release of the symphonies – is a timely reminder of what we’ve lost.
The new slimline presentation is certainly at odds with the heavyweight, often seismic performances. Tennstedt always demanded extremes of concentration from his players and audience, and without either a Bernstein-style volatility or Haitink’s airborne grace, that can sometimes be hard-going. The slow pacing of lyrical themes, such as the first glimpse of consolation in the Second Symphony’s funeral rites, makes the long-term vision hard to sustain, and the finale of the Sixth fails to catch fire after three very earthy movements. Sometimes the precision of the playing falters – Tennstedt’s Fifth is some way behind its magnificent successors in this respect – but the sound is always impressive, with horns collectively and individually resplendent.
Perhaps all the more unexpected, then, is Tennstedt’s unique way with the brighter vein of Austro-German naivety, related from the start to the angels and spirits of the folk-anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Luminously and vividly presented in the earlier symphonies, it never fails to take me by surprise in Tennstedt’s towering interpretation of the Eighth Symphony’s second movement, where the speedy celestials of children and women’s voices help to wing this great Faustian canvas to an overwhelmingly grand conclusion. Sumptuously recorded, with the amateur voices of the London Philharmonic Choir fervent enough to outstrip the operatic forces of rival recordings, it makes a fine testament to a colossus among conductors. David Nice