Great Mahler, Great Tennstedt

Klaus Tennstedt’s is the best Mahler I’ve heard (and great Brahms too), but this live recording of the first symphony in Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1976 Imageexceeds even his studio work. Listen to that cheer at the end! It sounds like a Red Sock just hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Why aren’t more live performances available on CD? I would prefer a live performance even with all the coughs and re-tunings between movements. Performers do their best work in front of live audiences. I heard an unforgettable performance of the Brahms concerto by Mutter and Karajan (on radio) that has never been available for sale on CD as best I have been able to determine. It was stupendous, the best I’ve ever heard her and a brilliant revelation of that concerto as well.

Some people will say you can’t engineer a live recording the way you can a studio performance, but that’s exactly what seems to make them sound better. Tell me if this Tennstedt performance doesn’t sound more like a real orchestra does in a hall and if the instruments don’t sound more like real horns and tympani than do studio recordings. The engineering is better, not worse!Image

If I were in charge of these things, I’d scour the archives for great live performances, and not just by the world-renowned ones, and issue them on CD or, better, Audio DVD or vinyl. What a waste of great artistry, and all in the name of technical perfection.





4 Comments to “Great Mahler, Great Tennstedt”

  1. As for new recordings, time is working for you, as few and fewer produces (can?) spend the money for a recording studio, extensive rehearsals and recording sessions — I think without people noticing it has become commonplace to record one or several concerts live, and to use “moderate doctoring” by combining the best parts of several concerts — *not* with the goal of providing a live experience, but merely out of economic constraints; this *may* (or may not) benefit the user…
    As for Tennstedt’s Mahler, I can’t comment, as I haven’t listened & compared (so far); I suspect you will not get unanimous agreement, as the Mahler community is pretty diverse: think of those in favor of the “romantic” approach (such as Bernstein / NYP), vs. those in favor of a more “objective” approach (e.g., Zinman, probably Nott). That said, Mahler’s First is a composition that (to me, in parts at least) has this trait that tends to evoke euphoric emotions irrespective of the interpretative approach chosen…

  2. I hope you’re right about the greater use of live recordings, Rolf. One of my favorite conductors is Okko Kamu. He pays attention to every note and every phrase — much like Yulianna Avdeeva — in the recordings I have by him, most of them a few decades old. This attention to detail and nuance in the aggregate makes for very moving, very satisfying performances. He never got a job with any major European or American orchestra (he’s with a Finnish one now, not the one in Helsinki), but he did conduct the orchestra in Singapore for several years. There must be a trove of live recordings from those days which I feel I should have access to, if only online. This would be the case for other orchestras and performers as well — the performance by Mutter and Karajan, e.g.

    I take your points about Mahler and his first symphony. My test for a performance is whether it seizes and holds my attention and then delights me. I’m very impatient with art — music, literature — and tune out or close the book if the artist hasn’t hooked me in the first few minutes. Tennstedt, like Kamu, like Avdeeva, does delight me because of the way he neglects no phrase, no matter how secondary, and makes the music come alive and even takes fun in it. I don’t have anything approaching your breadth of musical experience, so I take these things as I find them. Happily, I do keep finding them.

  3. Just keep in mind that the recent trend towards live recordings that I referred to is *not* (in general) driven by quality or musical arguments, but primarily by economic constraints, i.e., it allows the producers to survive, or to maintain their profit level. This works fine (if not even in favor of) some artists (& types of music?), especially those who prefer live recordings anyway — but it may be to the detriment of those who suffer from extreme stage anxiety (which includes famous artists such as Martha Argerich), and maybe even more so to the detriment of big productions (opera, oratorio), where it is impossible to have every artist involved in top shape for a recording that later must survive the scrutiny of the ambitious home listener.
    I can’t comment on the Mutter/Karajan recording you mention — in recent years I have become somewhat allergic to the omnipresence of strong vibrato, and Mutter certainly falls into that pattern. A little anecdote: one of my last violin lessons was interrupted by a teacher who knocked at the door of our rehearsal room, telling my teacher that he just missed an incredible concert by an 11-year old girl that morning, who was at time a pupil of Aida Piraccini-Stucki at the Winterthur conservatory. I packed my violin and went to the music auditorium, just to witness Anne-Sophie accepting the final applause… I have since listened to TV shows and Internet snippets with Mutter — and I’m getting stuck with her vibrato, every time.
    As for Mahler: I fully agree with your approach to music. One should just keep in mind that such impressions / emotions / reactions are individual, not universal. There are some pieces of music which are more likely to touch people’s heart, and the same may be true for specific conductors, pianists, etc. — but I think it is wrong to assume that other listeners will react the same way: only too often in discussion forums etc. I find statement such as “You *must* listen to XYZ playing … — this gives me the goosebumps every time!”. Such recommendations *may* work if one knows for sure that one’s taste & preferences are in agreement with those of the reviewer — if that is not the case, the recommendation may even be counterproductive and produce rejection or disgust. Recommendations such as yours (or mine, in my blog) are still valuable, though: for those who know they are “in tune” with the reviewer, and for the others it may still provide a pointer / vote, which may eventually (once there are sufficient other votes pointing into the same direction, or if later one finds out about matching tastes) take one to look into a given performance, and then maybe discover a “personal treasure” …

  4. I’ve often wondered how anyone could have the nerves to play before a live audience. On the other hand, I find I can play better than usual if someone is listening with pleasure. But how can you know which it is in a crowd of strangers? What I can’t imagine is how someone who has stage fright, as you say Agerich does, could possibly perform well under those circumstances — or perform at at all.

    Of course, I know it’s possible and that it happens all the time, that some actors throw up before every performance, so why not musicians. I recall how Yulianna Avdeeva said that she discovered early on, as a child, she enjoyed playing for an audience, and yet she also says she is unaware of the audience when she’s performing (she certainly seems to be in the thrall of the music, oblivious to everything else).

    And, yes, there is nothing more subjective than musical, or any other, taste. And, yet, how impossible it seems that someone cannot hear what we hear — by which we mean, of course, respond emotionally. I experience this block when someone tells me about the music of Dizzy Gillespie. I listen, but I don’t hear what they obviously do. How very different we are all made from each other.

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