BEETHOVEN Symphony No 6. Egmont Overture
Listening to this entrancing and yet deeply affecting performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, it is easy see why, with all the old ‘greats’ dead and gone, it was Klaus Tennstedt whom in the early 1990s Carlos Kleiber rated above all survivors. Tennstedt was a conductor of genius whose nervous bewilderment in the face of the world and its ways both fed that genius and crippled his health. Which may explain why the Pastoral Symphony spoke so directly to him and why he was able to meet this incomparable work on the same imaginative ground which Beethoven trod when he created it.
As on his earlier studio recording (HMV, 1/87 – nla), Tennstedt takes a briskish tempo in the opening movement. This isn’t metronome-mongering (Tennstedt was innocent of such things). It is simply his instinctive response to the pulse of the poet’s own motion and imaginings. With warm-bodied strings and a fresh-voiced wind choir, the LPO was also the ideal medium for Tennstedt’s reading. Their playing is a joy, finely sprung ostinato rhythms buoying the visionary wind descants that carol above. Happily, the BBC recording is exemplary. In the attendant overture, taken from a different Festival Hall concert, the wind balances are all over the place.
The LPO editors do us no favours by prefacing the Pastoral with a rather ruminative account of the Egmont Overture. One of the wonders of Beethoven’s F major idyll is that we hear nothing of the minor key until the storm. The Egmont Overture is also in F, minatory minor turning eventually to triumphant major, which makes it a poor companion piece for the Pastoral. Still, the editors must be commended for removing the applause from the end of the Pastoral. This is a visionary performance and it deserves its own quietus.