C1596. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. Boston Symphony Orchestra: 'Haffner' Symphony #35 in D, K.385 (Mozart); w.Phyllis Bryn-Julson(S): Symphony #4 in G (Mahler). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-696, Live Performance, 15 Jan., 1977, Symphony Hall, Boston. [Another majestic Tennstedt experience displaying the splendor of the Symphony Hall acoustic.] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"Collectors of Klaus Tennstedt’s magnificent live concerts, which hold primacy over all but a handful of his studio recordings, owe a great deal to the extensive Tennstedt Edition being steadily compiled by St. Laurent Studio. At present the survey runs to a fairly staggering 39 volumes, of which this Mahler Fourth from Boston in 1977 is a standout, both for the recorded sound, which is excellent broadcast stereo, and for Tennstedt’s inspired performance. I’ve been regularly finding recordings in this series that qualify for FANFARE’s Classical Hall of Fame, and the majority have been of Mahler.
The impact of Tennstedt’s sudden emergence after years of obscurity in East Germany was vividly captured by Lynne Renée Bayley reviewing a video version of this same concert on ICA. 'I wonder how many readers recall Klaus Tennstedt’s early years in the U.S. … how exciting they were, how he upset the balance of acknowledged great conductors, the brilliance of his interpretations, his wonderful imagination in phrasing and accents. He was like no one else then performing.' (FANFARE 36:1)
What makes this reading of the Mahler Fourth exceptional is its naturalness. Tennstedt doesn’t adopt extreme or even unusual tempos. The flow of the music is unaffected by intrusive gestures on his part. Nor is it necessary to listen for inner details not revealed by other recordings. This symphony, like the Beethoven 'Pastorale', is always played at an agreeable level and yet allows for few great performances, which isn’t a surprise when the music presents such an appealing, instantly accessible surface.
Tennstedt chiefly inserts himself through the magical phrasing that Bayley noted and an ineffable ability to bring vibrancy to every measure. The BSO musicians are responding with real joy in the making of music. The sensitivity with which the Adagio unfolds, the sardonic humor of the devil’s fiddle, and the winsome innocence of the finale are all brought out with an extra emphasis, and yet it’s the performance as a whole that casts a spell. We are breathing the air of Mahler’s world as if we inhabit it. Soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson was a gratifying choice in the finale—her lovely, limpid tone, her unaffected musicality, and her effortless assumption of a vocal part that has its difficulties — these virtues are very welcome, all the more when you realize that the singer was 56 at the time yet sounds twenty years younger.
The concert opened with a traditional, roundly Romantic reading of Mozart’s 'Haffner' Symphony. The performance can be viewed on a blurry overdubbed video on YouTube. One sees a sizable string complement on stage, but the most intriguing images are of Tennstedt himself, tall, thin, and gawky, yet sublimely enjoying the music and beaming at the musicians after every movement. I realize that my responses are subjective, but I think other listeners will feel the warm glow that emanates from this 'Haffner', which I don’t feel from performances by Böhm, Karajan, or even Bernstein. We are in the same territory as the beloved Mozart of Bruno Walter’s late phase, where affection is compatible with sure musical instincts.
A few last thoughts: The Boston Symphony latched on to Tennstedt as a regular guest conductor after his spectacular debut with the orchestra in two weeks of subscription concerts in 1974, the first devoted to Brahms, the second and more significant to the Bruckner Eighth Symphony (also available from St. Laurent Studio in listenable but not ideal sound [C1425]). As Henry Fogel noted (41:3), 'By the end of those two weeks, he had become an overnight star. The word flew out of Boston so quickly that Tennstedt was immediately signed by Columbia Artists Management, which instantly began receiving offers for him to guest conduct all the major American orchestras'.”
Tennstedt’s permanent home was at the London Philharmonic, with whom he made the majority of his studio recordings for EMI, but they reflect his abilities erratically. I’d venture that if you knew Tennstedt only from his official discography, you’d probably classify him as another traditional German in his musical outlook. Even considering the closest comparison, Wilhelm Furtwängler, another conductor who was much better in concert than in the studio, the disparity with Tennstedt was even greater.
The full picture of just how great a conductor he was depends on releases like this one. The remastering by producer Yves St. Laurent is admirable. The original source placed the trumpets and horns a little too close for ideal orchestral balance, and Bryn-Julson is just a bit too distant for all her words to be clearly understood despite her excellent diction. None of those elements bothered me, and while the audience isn’t silent, the coughing isn’t intrusive."
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
"Although the American soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson has sung a wide range of repertory throughout her career, she has tended to favor and often champion modern, even avant-garde works, including some by Boulez, Wuorinen, Carter, Crumb, Sessions, Ligeti, Birtwistle and Henze. She is known for her perfect pitch, vocal accuracy at fast tempos and extraordinary three-octave range, qualities that have made her an easy choice by composers of difficult modern repertory.
At the behest of Gunther Schuller she turned to vocal studies, first at Tanglewood, then at Syracuse University, where she studied with Helen Boatwright. She made her debut in 1966 in Berg's LULU Suite, with Erich Leinsdorf (an early mentor) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Thereafter she performed widely with major orchestras in America and Europe, though her first appearance on the operatic stage did not come until 1976 in Boston, when she sang Malinche in the world premiere of Sessions' MONTEZUMA. She made her highly successful debut at the proms in London the following year, again in a modern work, this time Henze's THE RAFT OF MEDUSA.
In 1984 Bryn-Julson joined the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, having already taught at the University of Maryland for thirteen years. 1987 was a year of triumphs for Bryn-Julson, with highly acclaimed appearances at Covent Garden in Stravinsky's THE NIGHTINGALE and Ravel's L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILÃˆGES. That same year she sang in Moscow with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and then conducted a master class at the Moscow Conservatory, the first American ever to do so.
In 1995 Byrn-Julson won a Gramophone Award for her performance of Schoenberg's ERWARTUNG. She received Grammy nominations in 1997 and 1998 for two acclaimed recordings, the first, Dallapicolla's IL PRIGIONIERO, and the latter, Schumann's â€˜Frauenliebe und Lebenâ€™.
In 2000 she delivered one of her most memorable and critically hailed performances when she sang Schonberg's PIERROT LUNAIRE at the Norton-Simon Museum Theater in Pasadena, California. Bryn-Julson continued making many highly successful appearances through 2005, the year she announced her retirement from singing. She continues to chair the voice department at Peabody."
- Robert Cummings, allmusic.com