Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8.
Das Käthchen von Heilbronn:
Piano Concerto No. 23
Klaus Tennstedt, cond; Babette Hierholzer (pn); Berlin PO
TESTAMENT 1446 (78:48) Live: Berlin 10/7/1980
Following the establishment of his international reputation in the U.S.A. and (especially) London in the 1970s, Klaus Tennstedt also
enjoyed a special relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic, which he conducted on many occasions between 1977 and 1991. The meeting of his ardently inspirational interpretive style with the rich, weighty sheen of the orchestra’s sound in its Karajan years always resulted in memorable music-making, and we are in Testament’s debt for making available several complete concerts in the best possible sound from the original Berlin Radio sources.
On this occasion, he was adventurous in his choice of curtain raiser in Pfitzner’s rarely heard overture. Musically, the obvious point of comparison is Richard Strauss, whose
(the evocation of birdsong through the open window in the first scene) often come to mind. But with Pfitzner there’s always a prickly, harmonically acidic, combative edge to the late-Romantic opulence. As usual, his characteristic combination of virtuoso fluency in a highly conservative musical language with a strain of stubbornly quirky individuality proves oddly compelling (what to make of that bafflingly offbeat, anti-romantic ending?). The music is magnificently served by Tennstedt and the Berliners, in a performance of glittering and saturated splendor.
The Mozart concerto is longer on robustness than subtlety, and I often find myself craving a lighter touch. The Andante is slow by today’s standards; curiously, the young soloist plays some modest right-hand embellishments over the dominant pedal at bars 80 ff., but then none when they are really needed, with the skeletal right-hand part in the coda, bars 85 ff. The finale strikes me as altogether too comfortable and well-upholstered.
The Dvo?ák is another matter: a reading of thrilling spontaneity and total commitment, executed with breathtaking panache. The first movement is fast-paced and dramatic, yet flexible, with plenty of time for Dvo?ák’s subtle colorings to really register. The inner movements find Tennstedt clearly relishing the unique tonal properties of the Berliners: The Adagio has an awe-inspiring dynamic range, from the barest whisper to a saturated
at the reprise. In the Allegretto, the violins’ distinctive combination of sweetness and heft is a joy to behold, the main tune’s gamboling triplet counterpoint (first in the woodwinds; later in the second violins) thrown off with unforgettably flamboyant relish (though at the price of steamrolling Dvo?ák’s dynamic marking, by ending with a crescendo instead of his specified diminuendo to
Rehearsal B+9). In the finale, the virtuoso abandon of the central developmental episode (Rehearsal J ff.) is truly incredible, topped only by the cellos’ breath-catching wisp of
tone at the reprise (Rehearsal N).
Comparison with an alternative live Tennstedt version (London PO, 1991, BBC Legends) is fascinating: a weightier conception 11 year later, paradoxically realized through the medium of the lighter-toned London orchestra (but memorably!)—the interpretation itself darker, less exuberant, seeking out the shadows and more given to reflection.
Berlin Radio’s sound is splendidly vivid and lifelike. I hope Testament has more where this came from.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 23 in A major, K 488 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Babette Hierholzer (Piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
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