Klaus Tennstedt

Tennstedt: Portrait of a Legend

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AllMusic Review by James Leonard

One of the best things about the early twenty first century's plethora of BBC and London Philharmonic historical releases has been the crowd of performances led by Klaus Tennstedt. The highly esteemed East German conductor had died in 1998 and left behind him relatively few recordings to document his work, and the many freshly issued recordings thus filled important gaps in his slim discography. This four-disc BBC set features Tennstedt leading the London Philharmonic at five separate concerts in nine works, eight of which are otherwise unrepresented in his catalog.

Six of the nine performances are superlative. Tennstedt's 1989 Beethoven Seventh is full of grandeur and magnificence as well as extraordinary drive in its opening Allegro and closing Vivace. His 1983 Brahms Third has gorgeous colors and heroic strength, and the same concert's Tragic Overture has a passionate intensity and an unsurpassed sense of inevitability. His 1984 Schubert Ninth starts with a shaky Andante but the Allegro ma non troppo that follows it is big-muscled and wonderfully warmhearted, and the same concert's Weber Oberon Overture is unrivaled in its supernatural Romanticism. His 1985 Beethoven Ninth is incredibly exciting and at times unbelievably moving despite some fairly dreadful soloists in the finale, and only the existence of an even more thrilling 1993 recording of the same work with much better soloists prevents this one from being the first recommendation for a Tennstedt Ninth. The three less than superlative performances are all from the same 1991 concert featuring works from Bohemia and Moravia: Smetana's Overture to The Bartered Bride, Dvorák's Eighth Symphony, and Janácek's Sinfonietta. Of the three, the first is the best, and it's downhill from there. The Bartered Bride proves bright and ebullient, but while the Eighth Symphony is lyrical enough though not especially inspired until its closing bars, the Sinfonietta is downright dull and surprisingly poorly played from start to finish. Taped in stereo before an audibly present audience, the recorded sound here is clean, detailed, and surprisingly vivid.

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