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On CD: Tennstedt's "Resurrection"

Web-only review by Mark J. Estren

Mahler: Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.” Yvonne Kenny, soprano; Jard van Nes, mezzo-soprano; London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir conducted by Klaus Tennstedt. LPO [2 CDs].

Recorded under terms that kept it unreleased for 20 years, Klaus Tennstedt’s February 20, 1989 live performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony has now been brought back to life – and even in a field crowded with excellent Mahler Seconds, this one stands out.

In 1982, Tennstedt recorded a fine Mahler Second for EMI when he was Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic. In 1987, cancer forced him to step down. But in 1989, Tennstedt, although ill and never known as a podium dynamo, seems to be channeling Mahler’s spirit as he shapes the music.
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The performance is slow and massive – 93 minutes, compared with (for example) 82 in Bernard Haitink’s recent Chicago Symphony version – but majestic and monumental. It does not drag – it builds. The first movement is a grandly spun-out funeral march, its climaxes bordering on the depressive. The second movement is more solemn than usual, its gentle dance theme wistful, nearly weepy. The third movement’s grotesqueries therefore seem to continue what the second has to say. It is only in the fourth movement, Urlicht – sung warmly by Jard van Nes – that there is some uneasy restfulness.

The start of the finale is so powerful that it seems to shake the musical foundations – and it is only gradually and through much struggle that chorus and orchestra win through to eventual affirmation of life beyond death. The concluding measures are so broad that they provide ample time for a feeling of exaltation to balance all the earlier despair – cementing Tennstedt’s reputation as a truly outstanding Mahler interpreter.

--Mark J. Estren

By Anne Midgette  |  April 9, 2010; 6:31 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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Thank you for this review. As I mentioned before, the "discovery" of Klaus Tennstedt's art was the greatest musical revelation that I had last year and which continues without an ending point in sight.

I do however wish the reviewer would comment a little bit on the sound. The reason being that I found the LPO live recordings to be affected by carnivorous sound of London's concert halls. Yes, I am generalizing and there are exceptions - and even so, they are listeneable. But when compared with the sound of the same orchestra under the same conductor live in Tokyo - that incredible Bruckner 4 from 1984 that I keep mentioning - the difference is obvious.

Still, the art of Tennstedt transcends the less than ideal sound...

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | April 9, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I've just bought this on the strength of this review. The reviewer makes it seem VERY special. I'll be back commenting if it isn't! And I read ciccio's comment on the sound -- but personally I wouldn't expect 1989 live sound to be like 2010 studio sound. And do reviewers have all the space they want to write in detail about sound and other things? If they do, I'd like to hear more details about performances so I can decide if I should buy.

Posted by: clarino | April 9, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Of course I would not expect 1989 live sound to be like 2010; what I meant is the way the live recording reflects the acoustics of the hall. After all the Bruckner recording that I was raving about was made in 1984, again live, but under different, better acoustics.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | April 9, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

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