Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 7
Klaus Tennstedt, cond; London PO
LPO 30 (63:07) Broadcast: London 5/10/1984
The Bruckner Seventh is the work that made Tennstedt’s name in the West, when he conducted it in Toronto in 1974. English critics would later complain that this conductor brought “19th-century accretions” to Bruckner’s scores. It now seems a bit churlish that they would complain at all, while Tennstedt was in town. “Will we ever see him again?” was the thought on most people’s minds, as they applauded his
later, increasingly rare concerts.
Our little band of young Bruckner/Mahler fanatics saw many of his London gigs in the 1980s, before and after his cancer diagnosis and treatment. TV interviews showed him to be a genuinely nice and very modest man, odd for a conductor. Any fool could tell right away that here was a real interpreter, not some faceless clone. Equally, anyone could hear what everyone now knows: the EMI studio recordings were not always a fair representation of his art.
The LPO seemed better live too. We were spoiled for live Bruckner, with Karajan, Haitink, and Wand all active; but Tennstedt’s intense podium style drew the orchestra into his personal vision of the large works, and the LPO generally sounded great in the Royal Festival Hall, especially the strings. In this Bruckner Seventh, the LPO violins play as well and as flexibly as they ever had, with unselfconscious portamentos, and expressive rubato. The brass play well too, only showing weakness just before the Symphony’s peroration. These were hard-pressed jobbing musicians, but they warmed to the new chief. The orchestra was also still in transition from the Solti years, I think. Solti got fine results in many works with the LPO, but he wasn’t really a good conductor with them of the Tennstedt repertoire, and his Bruckner was unmemorable.
I’m not reminiscing to say, “I was there and you weren’t.” It’s just I’m starting to worry about the color of memory, especially as there’s now a Tennstedt legend and army. This Bruckner Seventh is a very confident interpretation, not one of your reverential “cathedral in sound” tilts at the big E Major. There’s positive passion in the string phrasing, right from the start, and plenty of evidence of careful rehearsal. It’s all about character, not monumentality. The character is determined and extravert, pointing forward to Richard Strauss. For Bruckner fans, it’s one to buy and hear and compare. As you’d expect from a live air-check (British Radio 3 relay of the concert), it won’t do as a prime or second recommendation. For one thing, there are sections of digital confusion in the variable sound, with a couple of weird patches of noise. In addition, I wasn’t moved at all by this fresh and urgent Adagio, just absorbed by the interplay of warm phrasing among the strings. I don’t think they had sounded this lush before, but you know, the lingering coda should make a critic cry. The Scherzo is exciting, the Trio indulgent. The first movement is so highly charged that the coda sounds like it must be the end of the symphony. Bruckner via Breughel and Berlioz, rather than Borromini.
FANFARE: Paul Ingram
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 7 in E major, WAB 107 by Anton Bruckner
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1881-1883; Vienna, Austria
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