True greatness - part 4,
This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies 3 'Eroica', 6 'Pastoral' & 8 - Overtures (Audio CD)
From the late 1970's through to his eventual retirement and untimely death in the early 1990's there was a conductor, working regularly in London, who was the greatest Beethoven conductor since Klemperer. His name was Klaus Tennstedt. An exagerated claim? I think not.
There is a world of difference between performances (as has become the modern way) where precision, tidiness, fleetness, accuracy etc replace passion, meaning, truth, grandeur, as this music was understood to contain by Tennstedt and those that preceded him. One skims the surface, the other digs deep. Beethoven's music, more than anybody elses, breathes character, life, truth. He is the greatest "Yay" sayer of all creative artists. His music embraces life, whatever it brings, sorrow or joy, and affirms that it is noble and worthwhile. He is a giant. Performances of Beethoven's music which do not recognise this about him, which seek to shrink his message, to bleach out the meaning, to consign him to a trivial "historically accurate" pageant, ought to be consigned to the bin - the bins would be very full!
No conductor in the past 40 years has brought more insight to these extraordinary works than Tennstedt.
For a contemporary review of one of Tennstedt's concerts - go to ...
I do not know another recording of the Eroica that so successfully communicates the staggering, and at the time entirely novel, range of feeling that the Symphony contains. Yes, it is a dynamic, thrustful, revolutionary and powerful work. But it is also richly and deeply beautiful. These different facets are presented in very close proximity to each other so that it is easy for performances not to delve deeply enough, and to sell the lyrical and beautiful aspects short. The piece can often sound either dramatic and craggy (Bernstein NYPO, Karajan) or it can sound too much like a comfy armchair (Sawallisch, Giulini), or it can lack gravitas (Haitink LSO, Mackerras). Rarely is the true balance found (Klemperer finds it).
Tennstedt's is the most succesful of any performance I have heard at balancing the heroic with the lyrical, and the result is both profoundly moving and deeply satisfying.
There is nothing radical about any tempos here. The playing, and recording, are superb. It is Tennstedt's care to illustrate the different facets of the work, to illuminate it from within so to speak, that raises this performance to the level of greatness. Examples could be legion, but why bother.
The Pastoral Symphony achieves the same feat. It manages to be at once vigorous, AND joyful AND lyrical. Tempos are relatively swift, the recording is gorgeous.
Whilst the Eighth is not on this level - it is also a very good performance.
It is for the Eroica that you should buy this. It is one of the Penguin Guides "1,000 Greatest Recordings" and ...
It's a funny thing, but the older you get, the more the Pastoral seems to mean. Is there a more purely beautiful, seraphic even, piece in the whole repertoire? Where did it come from? - it is not like any other Beethoven, it is not like anything else at all; it is a sunbeam from heaven. The last movement in particular, which once seemed to me to be merely pretty, now sounds to me like an invocation of some kind of pure, spiritual joy, utter and transcendent in its beauty. Wave upon wave breaking on some celestial beach, each wave more joyous than the last.
Tennstedt, by playing the piece with both vigour and great beauty, hits the nail on the head. Genius.
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Initial post: 28 Sep 2013 06:00:09 BDT
Hilton Bennett says:
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