STRAVINSKY Petrushka. The Firebrd Suite (Tennstedt)
Klaus Tennstedt’s isn’t the first name to come to mind when thinking about Stravinsky’s ballets – granitic Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler were more his fare during his tenure as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1983 to 1987. Yet these performances of Petrushka (1947 version) and the Firebird Suite (1919), recorded in the Royal Festival Hall in May 1992, are enjoyable, affectionate accounts.
Tennstedt’s Petrushka has a rugged feel, the Shrovetide lumbering along like the dancing bear which intrudes on the action in the fourth tableau. The orchestra really digs into the score, relishing its earthy, folklike qualities. Tennstedt juggles the simultaneous different metres for Moor and Ballerina carefully. He is, however, in direct competition with the LPO label’s own 2015 performance under Vladimir Jurowski, currently steering the orchestra through a fascinating Stravinsky series. Comparative listening reveals Jurowski to be swifter, tauter, his pinpoint direction drawing out every nuance. Jurowski is also aided by a much more clinical recording highlighting instrumental detail.
The 1919 Firebird Suite is – forgive the pun – a slow burn of a performance. Tennstedt drags the Khorovod out to extreme length, really stretching out the opening phrases, although the LPO woodwind team cope admirably. The Berceuse is suitably somnolent, bassoon and oboe coiling sleepily around each other. However, the Firebird herself trips along delicately and the Infernal Dance is full of pulsating drive. Both Iván Fischer (with his Budapest Festival Orchestra) and Myung-Whun Chung (at the Bastille) have cockier trombones, but Tennstedt gets a strong performance. Enthusiastic applause is retained after Firebird, unsurprising given its grand finale.