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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

LPO 85
  • Overture to "Egmont"
  • Symphony #6 in F Major "Pastoral", Op. 68
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
London Philharmonic LPO-0085 55:17
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Klaus Tennstedt had a wonderful spirit that made him ideal for Beethoven, but also an inconsistency of quality that did not. He recorded the "Pastoral" on EMI Classics with this very orchestra, a performance that received rather mixed reviews. Coupled with a stronger Eighth, those accounts were largely forgotten, even at budget price. At least we have evidence that the "Pastoral" was a Tennstedt specialty; he also left us a version in a long unavailable commemorative set from the Minnesota Orchestra. Now, the in-house label of the London Philharmonic has given us a live version from 1992, coupled with an "Egmont" Overture from 1991.

The results are decidedly uneven at the start. The opening chords of the Overture linger longer than any I have heard in a great while, but that is perhaps the most noteworthy feature of this rather haphazard reading. The closing pages are superficially exciting, but also give the impression of not being very tidy. Compared to conductors as diverse as Szell and Walter, this simply isn't competitive.

On the other hand, the Symphony reminds us of just how good Tennstedt could be live. A very shy, often very sick man, by this point he was unable to do much except make guest appearances. Though his studio recordings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra tend to stress humanity over excitement (or precision), I have found his work on LPO to be well chosen and well-worth preserving. Although this isn't as important as his remarkable Mahler Second on the same label, this is clearly a superior Pastoral to the one on EMI.

The reasons aren't hard to fathom. Tennstedt gives a new prominence to his excellent wind soloists, while also displaying a greater flexibility within sections than previously. Climaxes still don't have the kind of hard-hitting impact we expect from Beethoven these days, but there is definitely a greater sweep and focus here. As with most of the conductor's late concerts, the London Philharmonic plays exceptionally, though not with the power and polish that they are again capable of today. The storm is especially wet, as in soggy, and you certainly could wish for more incisiveness. That said, Tennstedt live demonstrates far greater feeling for the composer overall. I can only recommend this without reservation to the conductor's fans and those who follow the history of the Philharmonic, but this disc is definitely better than what we had heard previously.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman