C1736. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. Chicago Orchestra: Symphony #7 in E (Bruckner), Live Performance, 31 May & 2 June, 1984. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-871. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“The Bruckner Seventh has been recorded so often and so well that it is difficult to make a real contribution to the discography, but here is one. This live recording with the Chicago Symphony in 1984 has had limited circulation in a commemorative box set, The Chicago Symphony in the Twentieth Century, issued in 2000 and now out of print. The CSO made a specialty of issuing many of the broadcasts made by WFMT, but in this case a truly invaluable performance was preserved.
After leaving East Germany in 1971, Tennstedt owed much of his tremendous reputation to Bruckner. His second program as guest conductor of the Boston Symphony in December 1974, featured the Bruckner Eighth [C1425], and it’s fair to say that the performance made a stunning impact, coming as it did from a name almost totally unknown in America. For a mature world-class conductor to appear virtually out of nowhere rarely happens. By 1984 Tennstedt was universally acknowledged for his Mahler and Bruckner. Since his death a wealth of live recordings has emerged. The label most involved right now is St. Laurent Studio (which previously issued a broadcast of that Boston Bruckner Eighth). This new release marks Vol. 27 in their Tennstedt Edition.
As with Furtwängler, Tennstedt cannot be fully appreciated without his live performances. FANFARE’s Paul Ingram regularly heard him in London in the Eighties and puts the case bluntly: ‘Any fool could tell right away that here was a real interpreter, not some faceless clone. Equally, anyone could hear what everyone now knows: the EMI studio recordings were not always a fair representation of his art’. Currently abruckner.com lists no fewer than seven live Tennstedt versions of the Bruckner Seventh. He was a high-strung artist and a variable performer, which leads devoted followers to constantly be on the lookout for concerts where lightning is captured in a bottle.
Without a doubt it happens here. The first movement is particularly magical. Tennstedt is as songful as Bruno Walter, more emotionally engrossing than Karajan, and nearly as insightful as Furtwängler. (Two decades after his death in 1998, it is a mystery why Tennstedt remains relatively uncelebrated outside collectors’ circles except for Britain, thanks to his directorship of the London Philharmonic.)
Inspired by the moment, he could make a great performance flow from the source (even though personally it drained him physically and emotionally). Here, every transition feels natural, every chord well balanced, and the full power of the CSO is exploited - the final climax in the Adagio is seismic in its impact. It is curious how older generations denigrated Bruckner even among his champions, and the Seventh Symphony was almost the only one Furtwängler considered faultless in its structure. Yet the finale can feel episodic, and the first movement is so powerful that another Allegro movement risks seeming anticlimactic.
Otto Klemperer, whose EMI Bruckner Seventh with the Philharmonia is one of his great recordings, is masterful at handling the shifting tempos and moods in the finale. The secret is revealed in a comment Ingram makes about the superb Tennstedt account with the LPO that took place three weeks before the Chicago concerts: ‘It’s all about character, not monumentality’. Klemperer, contrary to his granitic reputation, is full of subtle, supple changes in the finale, and no one finds more instrumental color. With Tennstedt you are more aware of the music’s continuity and a singing line. The magic comes from the juxtaposition of apparent simplicity and stunning power.
Tennstedt at his best made music sound like a living presence, and he’s at his most alive here. The CSO plays up to its exceptional standards, and the recorded sound, although a bit too bright at the top, has a full dynamic range down to the bottom notes of the double basses. It’s a moving experience to be reminded of such greatness, and anyone who loves Bruckner must have a listen.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE