Tennstedt's Beethoven has such a fresh and open sound to it. You can hear it straight away in the opening bars of the Pastoral as the music skips along, its feet barely touching the ground. There is sunshine and blue sky between the notes. But don't mistake lightness for lightweight; these performances have the strength, purpose and agility of an athlete and the Eroica is as handsome and satisfying an account as you could hope to find.
The playing of the LPO is a delight and all of the works are beautifully recorded with a natural balance and open-sounding acoustic, even the Third which was recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall and includes rapturous applause at the end.
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 ... http://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/18/arts/music-beethoven-eroica-conducted-by-tennstedt.html 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 ... Quite right!
Added later: 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.
First impression of the Pastoral: toned down / understated performance. Somewhat narrower soundstage than usual. Dominant upper string sections, reticent woodwind, brass and timps. Great delicacy. Molto legato and / or a thickish acoustic, melding the sound, though no real mushiness. Studio recording (Abbey Road 1986).
Eroica Live at RFH in 1991 but mercifully devoid of coughs and misc audience noises. If you want a sit-up-and-take-notice performance then not for you; this is the work of a scholar who eschews bravado and plays the long game.
The 8th: tempi questionable in middle movements (allegretto played at least allegro and Tempo di Menuetto played like Tempo di Arthritico). Bassoon a bit sharp in two places. Timps a bit less restrained than in the 6th. Thrilling final movement.
Overtures not as well balanced acoustically IMHO. Again recorded in Studio 1 Abbey Road, with tight acoustic. Coriolan sounds a bit more screechy than the others. Fidelio the pick of the bunch after a run-of-the-mill beginning.
The notes refer to a comment by Solti about the superabundance of sforzandos in the 8th; Tennstedt seems to largely pass over them, resulting in a somewhat less animated sound.
I would not be able to live without my various other versions of these pieces, but the answer to what the definitive versions are will remain contentious...