C1724. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. Orchestre National de France: Symphony #5 in B-flat (Prokofiev); w.Michel Crocquenoy: Oboe Concerto in D (Strauss); w.Nadine Denize: Wesendonck Lieder (Wagner). [This Prokofiev Fifth is absolutely monumental! Its white heat leaves the listener breathless!] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-849, Live Performance, 12 Oct., 1977, Salle Pleyel, Paris. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Klaus Tennstedt wasn't associated with Russian music, but in 1977 he was captured as a guest conductor leading the Prokofiev Fifth Symphony. Besides this new St. Laurent Studio release from Paris on October 12, Profil previously issued a reading from December 2 with the Bavarian Radio Symphony. Both are captured in good if not exceptional FM stereo, and on its own, each is certainly recommendable. But two months could make quite a difference in this mercurial, touchy, at times insecure conductor. Where the Munich performance is solid and fairly conventional, in Paris Tennstedt is transformed, delivering a reading that’s riveting and rousingly spontaneous.
There's nobody quite like Tennstedt when he's inspired by the moment. It was his good fortune to leave East Germany in 1971, landing first in Sweden. He had risen to lead the provincial opera house in Kiel, West Germany, when he made a spectacular Boston Symphony debut in 1974 [C1425]. Here, three years later, he was an international star at 51. Yet it has taken the outpouring of live recordings on various labels to bring out how exceptional he was when the occasion suited, as it does here.
The opening moments of the Prokofiev are restrained, but once the first movement catches fire, an air of vibrant music-making emerges. It doesn’t let up until the end of the finale, and although Tennstedt’s tempos are typical for the piece, what carries the performance aloft is its joyous spirit. I wish the solo oboe and clarinet were farther forward, but in Munich the recorded sound is more generalized, less detailed, and somewhat tubby. Here, string articulation is quite clear, and the Orchestre National de France seems more at home in Prokofiev than the Bavarian Radio musicians.
By only a few minutes does this release spill over on to a second CD, so it is the quality of the Prokofiev that will be decisive. The two works on CD 1 begin with an infectiously appealing Strauss Oboe Concerto featuring a leading French oboist, Michel Crocquenoy, first chair of the orchestra. His tone is a bit thin and piping by German or American standards, but as compensation, Crocquenoy phrases elegantly. This is followed by the only disappointment of the set, an unmemorable rendition of Wagner’s five Wesendonck-Lieder in which French mezzo-soprano Nadine Denize skims over the music’s surface in a light voice and with scant regard for the text. Tennstedt could be great in Wagner, and one can relish some lovely orchestral touches here, but I imagine he held back out of consideration for the singer. Listeners who prefer these songs to sound more lyrical than dramatic might respond more favorably than I do.
Thanks to the thriving industry bringing us Tennstedt in concert, he’s fairly well represented in Prokofiev. From the studio there is only, so far as I know, the Lt. Kije Suite (EMI), which is a gem. The Profil Fifth Symphony is paired with a Seventh Symphony with the same Munich orchestra at a later concert in December, 1977; it is very much worth hearing. Testament released a Second Piano Concerto from 1984 with the Berlin Philharmonic and Horacio Gutierrez as soloist. As for Strauss, an enticing entry I haven’t heard is DON QUIXOTE with the Boston Symphony from 1982. It is Vol. 8 [C1606] in St. Laurent Studio’s burgeoning Tennstedt edition, of which the present release is Vol. 24. All one can say is to keep the riches coming. Strongly recommended for the great Prokofiev."
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
"Tennstedt's Prokofiev is extraordinarily heroic and immensely monumental. In the Fifth, Tennstedt's approach ideally suits the music, creating an epic symphonic fresco celebrating hard-won victory and hoped-for peace."
- James Leonard, allmusic.com