Tennstedt Leads A Great “Eroica”

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Tennstedt had a genuine affinity for this symphony. He left many live recordings, and his last official release from EMI consisted of the “Eroica” incongruously coupled to Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain. Go figure. This performance, with a palpably energized NDR Symphony Orchestra, is glorious. Tennstedt’s is a very “German” view of the work: solid (but not stolid), sober, richly textured, and epic in expression. The only possible (welcome) exception to this characterization occurs at the start of the finale, which is notably light, lively, and rooted in the main theme’s dance origins.

If any single moment could be singled out as especially telling, it would have to be the fugue in the funeral march. Careful observation of Beethoven’s legato articulation of the principal theme gives the music an unusually passionate, songful, tragic quality as far removed from the abstract contrapuntal exercise it sometimes becomes as you could possibly imagine. But then, the entire movement is magnificently sustained–as is the first movement’s development section, and just about all the other moments that distinguish a great reading from the merely quotidian. Through it all the NDR Symphony plays with world-class commitment and precision.

The performance is aided in no small degree by gorgeous sonics: warm and resonant, but perfectly clear, with magnificently captured bass lines. This really benefits the coupling: Tennstedt’s view of the Coriolan Overture is measured and weighty, the pauses between the opening phrases sounding especially doom-laden in this acoustic. It’s certainly not the only way to play the overture, but it certainly works here, giving the music a bigness and importance that you might never have suspected. This is, in short, essential Beethoven, and a wonderful memento of a conductor whose studio recordings did not reliably find him at his best.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Szell (Sony)

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