ICA Classics – Klaus Tennstedt conducts Mahler 3

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Mahler
Symphony No.3

Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano)

Eton College Boys Choir & Women’s voices of the London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Klaus Tennstedt

Recorded 5 October 1986 in Royal Festival Hall, London

Plus a 6-minute interview: “Tennstedt discusses his interpretation of Mahler, notably Mahler’s Symphony No.6, with Michael Oliver” [1987]


Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: October 2011
CD No: ICA CLASSICS
ICAC 5033 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 42 minutes [including interview]

This two-CD set (the split is after the third movement, which loses Mahler’s two-part design, the huge first movement being Part One) is taken from a concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 when Klaus Tennstedt (1926-98) was the London Philharmonic’s principal conductor and before illness obliged him to step down in 1987. Tennstedt was always much more at home in the concert hall than in the recording studio, and this performance gives you the intensity, immediacy and sheer danger that made his performances such overwhelming experiences. The sound quality is a little subdued and lacking openness but is more than acceptable in terms of clarity and spaciousness.

It’s very easy for a conductor to savour the moment and sprawl in this epic work. Tennstedt, however, a natural as far as structure was concerned, surpassed himself in this transcendentally cohesive Mahler 3, in which the progress through the symphony has a magnificent sense of inevitability and wonder. This concert was from a time when Tennstedt’s relationship with the LPO was at its closest, and the playing is of a very special quality – warm, romantic and virtuosic, and completely on the ball in terms of character and mercurial response, which is all the more remarkable given Tennstedt’s famously imprecise conducting style.

The components of the epic first movement grow out of each other with satisfying fecundity, the struggle for supremacy between chaos and order grippingly revealed; no-one will be disappointed by the attention to detail – the heaving triplet rhythm, the minatory trumpet figure, the hard-won existence of the violin solo and the military music still worryingly unstable – and the rightness of tempo and rubato. This is Mahler at his most elemental.

The minuet-style second movement is a breezy evocation of flowers nattering away among themselves and floats their touchingly enclosed world of illusion through some superbly judged playing. The posthorn solo in the scherzo might be a bit too detached for some, but its remoteness anticipates the otherworldly “O Mensch…”; and the violent reassertion of nature is as shocking as you are likely to hear it, a salutary reminder of the dark presence at the heart of this symphony. Waltraud Meier is placed rather too far forward and the tempo a bit too assertive to conjure the required remote mystery and the non-glissando oboe cries are a bit too rigorous in the setting of Nietzsche’s Mitternacht, but the boys’ choir and women’s chorus deliver the innocence and optimism of the “bim-bam” movement with unforced precision. (No texts for the sung movements, by the way.) The adjustments of tempo in the slow finale give the music a magical levitation and sense of achievement; and the music’s three great crises set up the splendour of the closing pages with overwhelming conviction, and the playing, from the strings in particular, is stunning.

In the short talk, Tennstedt talks about his fierce identity with Mahler – this recording is ample testimony to the degree that he made the man and his music come to life.

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