Das Käthchen von Heilbronn – Overture
Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
A Night on the Bare Mountain
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Babette Hierholzer (piano) [Mozart]
Horacio Gutierrez (piano)
Recorded 7 October 1980 (Pfitzner, Mozart, Dvořák 8) and 13 March 1984 in Philharmonie, Berlin
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: TESTAMENT SBT 1446 [Pfitzner, Mozart, Dvořák]
TESTAMENT SBT2 1450
Duration: 79 minutes [SBT1446]
Two separately available releases (out of five) from Testament celebrating the late Klaus Tennstedt’s relationship with Berliner Philharmoniker.
The openers for each concert are rarities, be it Hans Pfitzner’s extended overture, lively, enchanted and rapturous, very much in the Wagner/Strauss axis and given with pride here. Mussorgsky’s own version of A Night on the Bare Mountain still plays second fiddle to Rimsky-Korsakov’s expert if sanitised re-write, which Tennstedt recorded commercially. His concert performance of Mussorgsky-before-rehabilitation is thrilling and trenchant, galumphing and menacing, glorying in the composer’s unsophisticated but exacting effects to conjure a diabolical ceremony.
Of the two (very different) piano concertos, following the Pfitzner is Mozart’s confidential A major. Somehow you might expect a pianist christened Babette to deliver a softly-voiced account of one of Mozart’s gentlest works; and so it proves, Tennstedt and the orchestra fully seized of Hierholzer’s clear-cut and poised account of the solo part, the music speaking for itself with clarity and sufficient unto itself, although here the expressive burden of the music often belongs more to the orchestra than to the soloist, witness the rather prosaic piano solo opening the slow movement and then the richness of expression unearthed in response. The finale sparkles, however, Hierholzer (23 years old at the time) sounding relaxed and happy. The Piano Concerto No.2 of Prokofiev receives a fantastical account, less gothic in the first movement than some, the huge cadenza fearlessly dispatched by Horacio Gutierrez (although, when the orchestra returns, to add decibels and layers, one wonders what happened to the cymbal clashes that should occur at 10’33”). The scherzo flies by, but with articulateness a priority; the Intermezzo has remorseless tread; and the finale flies into action, the folksong contrast lavished upon by Gutierrez.
Of the Dvořák symphonies, the Eighth is glorious in its exuberance and affection, Tennstedt conjuring fire and beauty from Berliner Philharmoniker, a pulsating and heartfelt account poised on tension-charged pianissimos and emotionally explosive fortissimos; brimful of telling detail, too, not least the often-overlooked oboe exclamation in the first movement (here at 8’41”) that speaks volumes about Tennstedt’s identification with the music, be it the depth of feeling in the slow movement or the lilt of the third. As for the ‘New World’, Tennstedt wasn’t afraid to rough things up, to give the music an edge; nothing cosy or sentimental here, yet there’s airy joy too if with a restlessness and nostalgic tinge that brings a volatile first movement (exposition not repeated), painfully arousing in the coda. That most famous of slow movements, the Largo, is broadly painted and without mawkishness, and followed by a superbly exuberant and biting scherzo (although some holdbacks in tempo both here and in the trio do not convince, however vivid the pointing). The finale has massive energy and intensity, Tennstedt unflagging in pushing the music ahead, but with a generosity of spirit that yields lyricism as innate to the whole, the coda properly ‘swing band’. There are some great recordings of the ‘New World’ out there – Concertgebouw/Colin Davis, Vienna Phil/Kondrashin, Israel Phil/Bernstein and BBCSO/Kempe, for starters – and a measure of such significance must surely be to remove cobwebs from music that is played too much; Tennstedt and the Berliners certainly do so with the ‘New World’ and remind of its originality and importance.