A previous reviewer described this live Titan from Tennstedt as "joyous". It certainly is, but not carefree like Abbado's impeccable Berlin disc. Tennstedt finds highly charged emotion in every bar of Mahler's youthful symphony. This isn't a ponderous performance yet Tennstedt's intensity lends way to a certain desperate passion that has traces of loneliness at times. Like most great Mahlerians, Tennstedt finds great spontaneity, with rubato that transforms the symphony, giving it a fresh, vivacious feel.
Comparing Tennstedt to Abbado and Bernstein, two of my other favorites, Tennstedt stands out for sounding unabashedly Germanic, with an air of unmistakable depth and richness. But where Abbado and Tennstedt sound youthful and ambitious, Tennstedt seems to be on a restless search for meaning. In some ways this is a retrospective performance. We find Tennstedt reminiscing the bliss of childhood, not reliving it. He becomes a wayfarer, finding satisfaction in the beauty around him, yet realizing that it will soon fade. This understanding transforms the reading, meaning we will find touches of sadness even when enjoying the fragrances in the lovely flower garden. I don't think the Titan requires such mixed emotions, but Tennstedt's inspiration is captivating, and I doubt I'll ever hear the likes of his performance elsewhere. On a practical side, the sound quality is second rate, and the London Philharmonic isn't flawless. If you can count all the flubs from the brass on both hands, you must have more fingers than I do. Yet given the vision from the podium, these detractions don't hinder my appreciation.
The Songs of a Wayfarer that open the disc are conducted with the same level of involvement from Tennstedt. Thomas Hampson sings with a level of sadness--some will find it ponderous--that leaves us mourning the threat of lost beauty. Some listeners will prefer the greater exuberance, brilliance, and variety found from Thomas Quasthoff and Pierre Boulez with the Vienna Phil, but I'll tuck this heart wrenching performance away for when I want an intense, sober listen.
I'm overjoyed to have discovered this disc, which lends an air of pathos to a symphony that I previously viewed as predominately joyous. I won't forget Abbado and Bernstein, but Tennstedt earns a place beside them.