MAHLER, Symphony No.5
By Klaus Tennstedt,London Philharmonic
I’ve taken a huge gulp of breath, and now I’ll say it. This video is the most overpowering, wonderful, gripping and awe-inspiring classical event I’ve ever seen anywhere, live or otherwise.
The conductor Klaus Tennstedt, who died in 1998, was born in the then East Germany but managed to migrate to Sweden in 1971, at the age of 45. He subsequently moved from country to country, working in West Germany, the US and the UK. His life was dogged by illness, but he was always much admired, especially his Mahler performances and his years as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1983-1987). A very small number of his concerts have recently made it onto DVD.
Tennstedt’s version of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, recorded live with the London Philharmonic in 1988, was legendary on CD. Now, after 24 years, we’ve finally got the event on DVD. Believe me, it’s an experience of a lifetime.
The orchestra is exceptionally fine, for one thing, and feels here like a collection of highly talented individualists who nevertheless cohere in response to Tennstedt’s powerful, somber approach. Everything about the performance is gripping and magnetic, and the dark color-tones of the film only add to the effect.
Take the famous fourth movement, the adagietto, for instance. It’s played without a shred of chocolate-box sentimentality; instead, it sounds like the heir to the most passionate, oceanic passages from Wagner’s Tristan. Tennstedt looks totally overwhelmed by it, and indeed at times scarcely able to keep it together. Is he mopping away the sweat or the tears? Either way, you’ve never heard the adagietto played like this before.
And at the end of it all the audience goes totally wild. It’s quite clear that everyone understood that this had been an altogether extraordinary occasion. This is a great Mahler performance by any standards, and must stand as first choice among the review items for this month, or any month.
MAHLER, Symphony No. 4; MOZART, Haffner Symphony (Symphony No. 35)
By Klaus Tennstedt, Boston Symphony Orchestra
A concert of Tennstedt conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1977 has also just been released, using old film originals. It can’t compare with the previous item but has its moments. It contains Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 followed, in an unusual sequence, by Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony. The Mahler increases in intensity as it progresses, with the dream-like third movement especially sonorous and wonderful (but the whole of Tennstedt’s 5th is like this). The final movement, with Phyllis Bryn-Julson as soprano soloist, is appropriately youthful and spontaneous.
CHINESE NEW YEAR CONCERT
By the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra, Musikverein Golden Hall, Vienna
To descend from the sublime to the averagely quaint, a pair of DVDs, most easily available from YesAsia, shows Beijing’s Chinese National Traditional Orchestra playing a Lunar New Year concert in 1998 in Vienna’s sumptuous Musikverein Golden Hall. It’s a good introduction to the variety of this kind of music as the program consists of many short items, each with a different instrumental emphasis. Visuals are carefully attended to as well, with the male players dressed in blue for the first half but in white for the second, and the ladies in white at the beginning but in yellow after the intermission. Various instruments, too, are decorated with colourful tassels.