It's been thrilling to hear many great interpretations from the BBC Legends, but aside from sound that is usually second rate, few of the recordings have gotten a fraction of the publicity of rival versions from mainstream labels. As this disc clearly attests, Klaus Tennstedt was a great Beethovenian, and his 5th is worthy to stand by the great versions from Karajan, Kleiber and Bernstein. How many listeners can be alerted? Let's hope the word gets out.
What distinguishes Tennstedt from most of his predecessors is that his intensity isn't achieved through control. Karajan had a rich, heroic view of Beethoven that featured immaculate orchestral homogeneity. Tennstedt seems just as intense, but he isn't rigid and isn't particularly concerned about the balance of ensemble. The London Phil plays with authority and a darkish, varnished tone, but they aren't necessarily virtuosic exemplars. Tennstedt builds the line with a feeling of great freedom. You can catch tinges of sweetness in his tone, but overall his Beethoven is grand, leaning on the slow side. The memorability comes from the novel combination of extreme fervor and emotional liberation. This isn't Beethoven that crushes the listener through uncompromising concentration, yet even as Tennstedt applies rich rubato, you can sense his connection with Beethoven's world of grandeur. We're on another planet compared to the scaled-down, lightened Beethoven of the authentic movement.
A previous reviewer noted that Tennstedt's 1st sounds as grand-scaled as the 5th. I concur, and while I love Bernstein's sunny, youthful take with the New York Phil, Tennstedt is still captivating. The real attraction seems to be the 5th, though, as I'm yet to hear anyone couple freedom and intensity with such success. This is a truly romantic reading, overflowing with thrilling passion yet the line is flexible, almost supple at times.
At the present, not only do I think Tennstedt matches Karajan, Kleiber, and Bernstein, but I'm inclined to think he surpasses them. Certainly this is a great disc that demands to be noticed.