C1891. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. Finnish Radio Symphony Orch.: Symphony #8 in G (Dvorak); 'Symphonic Dialogue for percussion and orchestra' Symphony #2 (Aulis Sallinen), Live Performance, 19 May, 1978, Helsinki; KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. Philadelphia Orch.: Passacaglia, op. 12 (Webern), Live Performance, March-April, 1979. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1173. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Once you realize that Klaus Tennstedt was at his full powers in concert rather than in the studio, every new release in St. Laurent Studio’s Tennstedt Edition is of special interest. This release features one work that is new to his discography, the exciting Sallinen Symphony #2. Webern’s very early Passacaglia would be new except that it appears with the Boston Symphony from 1977 in Vol. 2 of the Tennstedt Edition (enthusiastically reviewed by Henry Fogel in FANFARE 41:3). The one mainstream work is Dvorak’s Symphony #8, and it is a ‘must-listen’.
For those of us who want to hear every Tennstedt concert that comes in good sound, this one from Helsinki in 1978 will be desirable. It comes in fine FM broadcast stereo, and in Yves St. Laurent’s expert remastering the balances are natural, the sonority vivid, and the tape clean. Tennstedt conducts the Dvorak with a lovely combination of relaxed naturalness, melodic freedom, and spontaneity. The performance comes across fully engaged. There are a few niggling bobbles in execution (Tennstedt was never known as a technician); otherwise, the Finnish Radio Symphony flexibly follows the conductor’s spontaneous shifts in tempo.
This account joins another live performance, with the Berlin Philharmonic from October 1980, released on Testament. The texture is lighter than in Berlin, and it must be conceded that there is no comparison for virtuosity. But once you get caught up in the performance, that’s of secondary importance. Tennstedt was a master at capturing what Wagner, himself the model for the Romantic conductor, called melos, the unbroken flow of expression that lies behind the notes on the page. This is beautifully brought out in Tennstedt’s handling of the Eighth’s slow movement, which exemplifies Romantic conducting at its finest. The pacing of the finale is fast and ebullient. I’m also relieved to report that the trumpets don’t bobble their exposed entry in the finale, just to touch on a detail that can be worrisome in concert. The whole performance deserves to stand beside Bruno Walter’s famous one with the Columbia Symphony.
I was unfamiliar with the music of Finish composer Aulis Sallinen (b. 1953), whose Symphony #2 was originally titled ’Symphonic Dialogue for Solo Percussion Player and Orchestra’. An online analysis of the work remarks that ‘the controlling of essentially untamable forces is, for Sallinen, a major musical concern’. The opening of the 18-minute symphony belies anything like ‘untamable’, since it consists of a simple descending scale in the strings with vibraphone. Nothing daring occurs harmonically, and the use of varied percussion (side drum, cymbals, xylophone, vibraphone, gourd, etc.) isn’t particularly raucous.
Whether this is a symphony or a percussion concerto is moot, but Sallinen’s short, varied episodes are entertaining and accessible, as you’d expect if Tennstedt, who was not known for contemporary music, agreed to conduct it. Considering that the score dates from 1972, when Sallinen was not yet twenty, Symphony #2 is something of a tour de force. A note from the producer warns of a sonic problem at the beginning of the recording, which I think refers to two or three clacks of undefined origin - they are a minor blemish. The expert solo percussionist is unidentified.
The Webern Passacaglia doesn’t represent his mature style except perhaps in the transparent, scaled-down orchestration of the opening bars. The score is so late-Romantically inclined that it is generally left to Webern completists and those who cannot abide his late period, but it’s good to be reminded of its existence, particularly because Tennstedt clearly believes in the music which he gives a passionate reading with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The vivid broadcast sound is a little shrill on top, but the orchestra’s execution is exciting and virtuosic.
This is Vol. 38 in St. Laurent Studio’s Tennstedt Edition, and interested buyers might want to consult the dozen or so previous installments that have been reviewed in FANFARE. All are exceptional musically, even though there is a wide variability in sonic quality. This release is in the top tier for recorded sound, I’d say, and there is little audience noise except for applause at the end of each work. I found the listening experience extremely rewarding and can offer a strong recommendation.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Aulis Sallinen can be justly regarded as the natural successor to the greatest Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. After early experimentation with serialism, he adopted a clear, diatonic style that often evokes the cold expanse of Finnish landscapes. With a strong sense of national identity, Finnish traditional melodies often appear in Sallinen’s works, and the subject matter of several of his six operas draws on the history and folklore of that country, such as THE RED LINE, set against the backdrop of the first Finnish national election, or Kullervo, based on the Finnish national epic, the KALEVALA.”
- Wise Music Classical
“Sallinen takes you on a journey so wondrous you are sorry when it ends.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES
“[Sallinen's] organic music does not form (or grow) in a closed greenhouse, but always in an empathic connection to a wider world, nature and culture. These works are, in a unique way, interestingly novel and strangely familiar at the same time.”
- Juha Torvinen, FINNISH MUSIC QUARTERLY