Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op. 68 [48:56]
Symphony No 3 in F major, Op. 90*[35:34]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. live, 14 October 1992, *7 April 1983, Royal Festival Hall,
LPO-0068 [48:56 + 35:34]
Klaus Tennstedt never recorded Brahms’ Third symphony commercially
so it’s good to have a live recording of him conducting it.
The ‘blurb’ that I received with these discs states that neither
recording has been issued previously but in fact that’s incorrect.
The performance of the Third appeared on the BBC Legends label
and I reviewed
that disc back in 2006. Listening to the performance again I
don’t find that my view of it has changed. The sense of purpose
with which Tennstedt approaches the first movement is very pleasing.
I still find the treatment of the andante is serious – that’s
not a criticism – but this time round I took more note, I think,
of the way in which Tennstedt and the LPO ensure that the music
sings warmly. The finale is successful: there’s excellent energy
in the first half of the movement and the extended, autumnal
coda is very well done. In these pages Brahms not only brings
the movement full circle but also, through the woven-in references
to the first movement, he brings the whole symphony home in
a very satisfying way. Tennstedt gives full value to this lovely
music while never being self-indulgent.
So far as I know the claim that the performance of the First
symphony is new to the catalogue is correct. However, there’s
another competing Tennstedt version on the BBC Legends label.
Furthermore there’s also an EMI commercial recording, made in
November 1983, though I believe that currently that’s only available
in a big box of Tennstedt’s EMI recordings (review).
Reviewing that box, my colleague, Ralph Moore, rightly drew
attention to the “large scale” of Tennstedt’s interpretation
of the symphony. I haven’t heard that studio version but Ralph’s
description certainly holds good for the BBC Legends reading.
This dates from May 1990 and I reviewed
the performance in 2009.
Nowhere is the large scale of the interpretation more apparent
than in the introductions to the first and last movements, both
of which are imposingly rhetorical; there are pounding timpani
at the start of the first movement while the big horn call in
the finale is full of dramatic moment. Yet that rhetorical trait
is not overdone and in both cases these passages are upbeats,
if you will, to thrusting accounts of the main body of the movement.
That’s particularly true of the first movement – some may find
the unfolding of the famous Big Tune in the finale a touch too
spacious, and when it appears later on Tennstedt is even a touch
more expansive, I fancy. However, Tennstedt’s interpretations
have an inner strength that I, for one, find convincing. I still
appreciate the leaner, tauter approach of Gardiner (review)
or Mackerras but the revelations of their interpretations shouldn’t
mean we forsake the more traditional ways with this score and
Tennstedt’s is an excellent example of all that’s good about
the traditional approach. In between these two large scale movements
the inner movements come off well too. The Andante sostenuto
is warmly phrased and played and there are some fine solo contributions
from various LPO principals. All in all, this is a satisfying
and rewarding performance of the symphony.
As we’re reminded so often with the live Tennstedt recordings
which have been issued in recent years,
the LPO used to play their hearts out for him and these two
performances are no exception to that rule.
The sound is good on both recordings. They are stated to be
BBC Radio 3 recordings. However, I’m advised that this is incorrect
and that, in fact, the recording of the First symphony comes
from the LPO’s archives.
If you have either of the BBC Legends recordings you probably
don’t need this set, especially in the case of the Third symphony,
since that’s a straight duplicate. However, if you don’t have
Tennstedt’s live performances of these symphonies in your collection
then acquiring them will offer two opportunities to hear a great
conductor in action.