Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
Klaus Tennstedt, cond; Yvonne Kenny (sop); Jard van Nes (mez); London PO & Ch
LPO 44 (2 CDs: 93:57
Text and Translation) Live: London 2/20/1989
Like Michael Gielen, Klaus Tennstedt always conducted this symphony very slowly, an approach I normally don’t like in this music; if you’re going to slow down the agitato passages, it’s surely going to collapse when you reach the already-slow ones. But it was his view
of Mahler as world-weary and prophetic of a time when the cares of the world reach such a point that even an artist’s inner spirit and drive to communicate are threatened by the forces of greed and power that seek to crush it, and this live performance from 1989 is in many ways superior to his 1981 studio recording with the same orchestra.
This performance is five minutes longer than the studio version, and
minutes longer than the classic 1962 recording by Klemperer or the equally classic 1982 performance by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. The inexorable tragedy of the first movement, in which Tennstedt shapes and phrases its contrasting sections like alternating moods, makes it sound almost a symphony unto itself. The marcato string passages in the second movement have an eerily inexorable quality to them, accented in a stabbing, almost pugnacious manner. Tennstedt’s approach to the third movement is similar but not identical to his 1981 reading, macabre and relentless. In the
one is treated to the simply ear-ravishing voice of Jard van Nes, a Dutch mezzo with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Both van Nes and Yvonne Kenny, one of my all-time favorite British sopranos (who I feel is vastly underrated on this side of the pond), also sing beautifully in the finale.
And it is in this finale that Tennstedt pulls out all the stops. At the moment of the horns’ entrance, one almost feels the earth opening up and falling away, the swirling (yet still somewhat stabbing) strings trying desperately to reach upward to a higher plane away from desolation and despair. The tremendous drum rolls bring us, temporarily, back to angst and loss of control before the soprano’s first entrance, which has the magical feeling of illumination from above. From here on out, we ride a slow, controlled, ecstatic wave of redemption and validation of the human spirit.
I can well understand that listeners raised on the emotionally intense but more rhythmically controlled readings of Mahler’s young pupils, Walter and Klemperer, may not respond to this sort of treatment. Tennstedt’s Mahler was always an excursion, an out-of-the-box way of viewing this music, and this remarkable performance is no exception, but as an alternate to your Walter, Klemperer, or Mehta recordings, this one has no equal. In addition, the sonics are absolutely mind-blowing, having all the depth and atmosphere of surround sound.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
There was a time, youngsters take note, when a performance of this symphony was a Major Event and not just another subscription night at the local symphony. If you've ever wondered what all the fuss was about, the kind of performance that made Mahler a legend and (ironically) introduced him to a generation of conductors who have no business touching his music with a pair of tongs, then you simply have to hear this stunning live performance dating from 1989. Klaus Tennstedt always was an inspirational Mahler conductor, but his studio cycle with the LPO is often disappointing, largely on account of the poor response of the orchestra combined with so-so sonics. Well, this is one of those miraculous events where just about everything went right.
First, the orchestra. It plays stupendously, and what tiny lapses do occur (very few and far between) are completely unimportant. The brass section is positively heroic in the outer movements, the woodwinds in the scherzo are an unalloyed delight. Jard Van Nes offers one of the best accounts of "Urlicht" on disc--full of feeling and a keen sense of the text. Cellos and basses, so often the weak link in English orchestras, put a firm bottom on the sound and display excellent ensemble throughout the especially tricky first movement. Indeed, the whole orchestra follows Tennstedt every step of the way with amazing precision, and if you saw him conduct live you know that this was not something to be taken for granted.
The interpretation itself is one of those "pull out all the stops, go for broke" feats of expressive daring that have become all too rare these days. Tennstedt's tempos in the first movement are generally slow (it lasts 25 minutes), but are so flexible and full of tension that concentration never flags. The climax leading into the recapitulation is a smoker. Tennstedt takes the second movement, like Bernstein, slowly and wistfully, but with myriad details in phrasing that (here's the tricky part) never sound affected. And aside from those wonderful winds, believe me, you've NEVER heard the "cry of despair" in the scherzo sound like this. That accelerando! Those horns! That percussion! Wow!
As for the finale, well, it's amazing that the players have anything left after the preceding four movements, but they surpass themselves. The "dead march" is cataclysmic, the ensuing climax before the entry of the chorus totally insane, the offstage brass cadenza surprisingly together (it's the bane of most live versions), and the chorus excellent. Tennstedt builds the final peroration with unerring skill--the Royal Festival Hall organ makes an appropriately weighty contribution, and it's impossible to take issue with the added cymbal crash at the final cry of "Auferstehen!". The sonics are surprisingly good considering the provenance; offstage effects get a bit lost at the start of the finale, but otherwise this is totally natural, realistic sound that puts you in a good balcony seat. How lucky we are that this performance was preserved, and how lucky you will surely feel to have the opportunity to hear it.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Written: 1888/1896; Germany
Venue: Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall,
Length: 75 Minutes 23 Secs.
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