Klaus Tennstedt, Vol. XI,  Alexis Weissenberg  -  NDR  (St Laurent Studio YSL T-731)
Item# C1661
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Klaus Tennstedt, Vol. XI,  Alexis Weissenberg  -  NDR  (St Laurent Studio YSL T-731)
C1661. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. NDR S.O.: La Valse (Ravel) [most assuredly the most beguiling performance of 'La Valse' you're likely to hear!]; Symphony #9 in E-flat (Shostakovich); w.ALEXIS WEISSENBERG: Piano Concerto #3 in C (Prokofiev). [Among the most glorious of Yves St Laurent's achievements - magnificent performances in stunning sound!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-731, Live Performance, 15 Dec., 1980. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“Alexis Weissenberg, a charismatic Bulgarian-born pianist known for his thundering aggressiveness and rational detachment at the keyboard, and for his unapologetic defense of those traits in interviews, appeared as a soloist with the world’s leading orchestras, played recitals on celebrated stages and made many recordings. A naturalized French citizen, he was a Romantic specialist, most closely associated with Schumann, Chopin and perhaps especially Rachmaninoff, whose percussive pyrotechnics suited him.

Mr. Weissenberg’s cool yet blazing approach divided reviewers. Where some heard impeccable technique, others heard soulless efficiency. Where some embraced the drama of his interpretations, others condemned them for aggressiveness. On these points, however, nearly everyone agreed: Mr. Weissenberg possessed a technical prowess rivaled by few other pianists. The ice of his demeanor at the keyboard (he sat, leaned forward and got down to business, playing with scarcely a smile or grimace) was matched by the fire that came off the keys. He could play very fast, and very loud. (Over time, verbs used to characterize his pianism included ‘barrel’, ‘tear’, ‘thunder’ and ‘let loose’).

Reviewing a 1982 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Weissenberg, in THE NEW YORK TIMES Bernard Holland called his rendition of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy ‘chillingly scientific’. He added: ‘It was anatomy instruction conducted by a master — a brilliant dissection of cold, gray, gleaming flesh, from which every trace of living blood had been conscientiously squeezed away’.

To his critics, Mr. Weissenberg had no shortage of articulate rejoinders. In a 1983 interview with THE GLOBE AND MAIL OF CANADA, he had this to say about his unemotional stage demeanor: ‘You cannot lose your control physically and be precise as to what your hands do. Can you imagine a surgeon operating on somebody, and swooning and looking up at the ceiling and being very excited about it? The patient would die. That is what happens in music too. The patient dies, because there’s too much going on besides the actual performance’.

In any case, as reviews over many years made clear, Mr. Weissenberg did sometimes give performances, or make recordings, that were simply, electrically, unequivocally breathtaking.

Alexis Sigismond Weissenberg was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 26 July, 1929. (He was billed as Sigi Weissenberg early in his career.) An only child, he was reared by his mother, a pianist from whom he took his first lessons.

In 1941, after Bulgaria allied itself with the Axis Powers, Sigi and his mother, who were Jewish, attempted to cross into Turkey using false papers. As Mr. Weissenberg recounted in an autobiographical essay on his Web site, alexisweissenberg.com, they were detained for several months at a concentration camp on the border. With the aid of a sympathetic German officer, who loved the Schubert that Sigi played on an accordion he had managed to bring with him, they were able to escape. Mother and son made their way to Istanbul and eventually to Palestine. There, Sigi, already a fine pianist, performed with the Palestine Symphony and other orchestras.

After the war, the young Mr. Weissenberg moved alone to New York, where he studied at the Juilliard School with the pianist Olga Samaroff and the composer Vincent Persichetti. In 1947, at 18, he won the Leventritt Award, a prestigious international music prize. He made his New York début the next year at Carnegie Hall, playing Chopin’s e minor Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Weissenberg moved to France. By then, critical opinion had begun to dog him, and engagements on major stages were drying up. He took a long sabbatical from public performance, spending a decade teaching and studying. ‘As a young artist I learned new works very fast and played them much too soon’, he told NEWSWEEK in 1977. ‘In 10 years I would have reached a point where my whole repertory would have been overplayed and understudied. I did not want to end up at the age of 50 still a ‘promising’ pianist’. He re-emerged in the mid-1960s, and by the 1970s was again performing widely.

That Mr. Weissenberg’s artistry was not to every taste was a subject about which he could eventually wax coolly philosophical. ‘I still don’t know why my playing is considered so disturbing’, he told THE TIMES in 1983. ‘I remember in school, as a child, I learned that the flame of a candle is composed of a yellow light, which actually burns, and a blue light within it, which is ice cold. That is true of human beings as well. Perhaps it is the sight of that blue light in me that frightens certain people’.”

- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Jan., 2012

“Because he spent the beginning of his career in East Germany, Klaus Tennstedt was virtually unknown in the West until he was in his late 40s. But his international career took off after he left East Germany in 1971. From the time he made his first appearances in North America, with the Toronto and Boston Symphony Orchestras in 1974, he was regarded as an uncommonly probing, expressive conductor of works from the mainstream Romantic repertory.

Mr. Tennstedt was born in Merseburg, Germany, on 6 June, 1926. When he was 15, he enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he studied violin, piano and music theory. He also studied in Dresden during World War II, and he told one interviewer that after the firebombing of Dresden in 1944, he was in the fire brigade and assigned to dig bodies out of the rubble.

In 1948 he was appointed concertmaster of the Halle Municipal Theater Orchestra, where his father was a violinist. Four years later he began conducting the Orchestra, and he soon became its music director. In 1958, he became music director of the Dresden Opera and in 1962 he took over the Schwerin State Orchestra and the Schwerin State Theater. During the 1960s, Mr. Tennstedt had an active touring schedule in East Germany, and was a frequent guest of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Berlin Radio Orchestra. He also performed in the Soviet Union and in Czechoslovakia. When preparing for a tour in 1971, Mr. Tennstedt found that his passport had been mistakenly stamped with an exit visa for the West. He left East Germany for Sweden, announced his intention not to return, and persuaded the East German Government to allow his wife to join him. In Sweden, he became the director of the Stora Theater in Goteborg and the conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Stockholm. In 1972, he became director of the Kiel Opera in West Germany.

Mr. Tennstedt's first break in North America occurred after the death of Karel Ancerl, the director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. When the Orchestra's managing director, Walter Homburger, went to Europe in search of a replacement, he read some reviews of Mr. Tennstedt's work in Kiel. After hearing him conduct Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, he hired him for a series of Toronto concerts in May 1974. He made his Boston Symphony debut later that year. [This outstanding performance, described as a 'once in a lifetime' event, in which Tennstedt gave the Boston audience and radio listeners a positively electrifying account of Bruckner's 8th, is still talked about in Boston to this day! After rehearsing, the Orchestra spontaneously broke into applause during a coffee break.]

Mr. Tennstedt became principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic in 1977, served as principal guest conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1979 to 1982, and returned to the London Philharmonic as its music director from 1983 to 1987. After he relinquished the post, he became the Orchestra's conductor laureate.”

- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 13 Jan., 1998