The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (40): Not the best Mahler First

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (40): Not the best Mahler First


norman lebrecht

April 25, 2020

… but by far the most exciting: Klaus Tennstedt conducts the Chicago Symphony.

Some idiosyncracies may offend the purists, but this will always rank among my go-to performances.



  • To be frank I have never heard about this director. I saw in the archives, he directed Mahler with the Concertgebouw but it was only the 5th. And he also directed with Martha the RCO.

    • pjl says:

      never heard of Tennstedt?????? are you interested in music? incroyable!

      • Classical man says:

        Never heard of klaus tennstedt a great conductor ranked alongside herbert von karajan and Georg solti and and bernard haitink and Claudio abbado and lorin maazel etc especially in Mahler and bruckner and Beethoven and Brahms and Richard Strauss with his own London philharmonic orchestra as well as guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and concertgebouw and Chicago symphony and Boston symphony and Philadelphia orchestras

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Huh? Tennstedt spent most of his career in provincial obscurity only to emerge in the last few years of his career as a major talent. He was made chief conductor at the LPO (not really a top 10 orchestra, even though I enjoy them), and got to guest conduct some major orchestras.

          But his health soon collapsed and he died before he had much of a recording career. Nevertheless, those who heard him conduct during those last four years of his life loved him greatly, and they will never forget him. His legacy most certainly can not be ranked as the others in your list.

      • trlgebeouw says:

        Never heard of trolling???
        pas étonnant…

      • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

        == I have never heard about this director.

        Huh ? Don’t walk – RUN to hear everything you can by this much-missed genius

      • Yes but I don’t pretend to know everybody and I ‘am not 80 years old. About the same generation I have heard and seen about Guilini, Böhm, Boskovsky, Walter, Kubelik, Fournet, Jochum and sorry but a director can be very famous in a country or in a part of Europe and can be completly unknown in another part of Europe. It’s the same thing for the painists. And I don’t pretend to judge this director I ‘am just honest. Music history is not my job.

    • Alexander Tarak says:


      • If you start to hear and see about classical in West, Central or East Europe or in the USA or in Asia you will not see in a fisrt time the same directors. There ‘are some directors who make their carrer almost only in one part of the world.

    • Classical man says:

      Tennstedt was a great conductor especially of the music of Mahler and bruckner and Brahms and Richard Strauss with his own London philharmonic and he guest conduted the Berlin philharmonic and Boston symphony and Chicago symphony also the Philadelphia and concertgebouw orchestras.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Catching up with Klaus Tenstedt’s live recordings will enrich your life, my friend. The above clip is a good start. To my ears it sounds very special.

    • Jake says:

      Well good news: Now you have!

    • Bruce says:

      That is surprising, but… you are in for a treat 🙂

    • Melisande says:

      That doesn’t matter. But why bother other people with your message. Besides the archive of the Concertgebouw Orchestra there are many more sources to inform you about the formidable conductor Klaus Tennstedt who died much too early. So broaden your knowledge outside your border. Good luck!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I heard him conduct this symphony with London Philharmonic in early 1980’s, that was very impressive too.

  • Neil B. says:

    Didn’t Kleiber say that the Tennstedt/LPO recordings were some of the best? Their live Mahler 6th to me still tops my list any day!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Correct. Kleiber didn’t ever really say much about his peers but he did single out Tennstedt as an excellent conductor.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Partly because Tennstedt hadn’t really had the career and public recognition that his competence on the podium merited.

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    My favourite Mahler conductor. I was lucky enough to hear him twice at the RFH in the mid eighties.
    Mahler 6 and Beethoven 6 and 7.
    A great conductor who, IMO, is underappreciated.
    The fact that he didn’t indulge in the podium antics of many lesser talents may have something to do with it. (No names).

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Still the champ.

    I love Tennstedt but…. uh-uh.

  • Jim Fatica says:

    outstanding performance. Thrilling. I object to the climax of the lyrical theme of 4th movement. Distorted betting recognition.

  • Bill says:

    I saw Tennstedt conduct the New York Phil in a performance of Bruckner 8.

    It literally changed my life. I gave up playing rock music, enrolled in a conservatory and never looked back.

  • Greg in Chicago says:

    The unsatisfactory acoustics of Orchestra Hall are revealed in the first few seconds of this clip. The box seats and lower balcony seats are almost on top of the orchestra. New York’s Carnegie Hall is configured similarly but it is at least fifty feet longer allowing the sound from the stage to reverberate naturally. The ‘improvements’ to Orchestra Hall undertaken in the nineties (to the tune of more than a hundred million dollars) bettered the acoustics only marginally. If only they had put that money into an escrow account in anticipation of eventually tearing down the auditorium and started anew. Music lovers of London, take note.

    Also, is there a more ‘rigid’ orchestra than the Chicago Symphony? Check out YouTube clips of such European ensembles as the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The strings bend and sway with the music which I’m convinced contributes to the warmth and suppleness of sound one often associates with European orchestras. The grim, businesslike musicians of the CSO can peel bark off a tree at a hundred meters but you would never mistake them for the Concertgebouw or VPO.

    • Stuart says:

      I attended 17 subscriptions years at the CSO from the mid-1980’s through the early 2000’s. I was at the Tennstedt concert at which the Mahler 1st was recorded. We always sat halfway back and the acoustics were fine. I got to know many of the CSO players over the years and the image of “grim, businesslike” doesn’t track. There was plenty of bending and swaying. Obviously we remember two different orchestras. My memories are based on about 150 concerts. I miss those days. I still have Abbado’s Mahler 6th in my head (it was wonderful).

      • Amos says:

        Somewhere on the web is a tape of an early 80’s Abbado Mahler 6th with the Cleveland Orchestra. The performance was in Severance and they then performed it on tour. Suffice it to say twice the orchestra refused to stand to acknowledge the applause.

    • Tromba in F says:

      It may be the acoustics or the mic placement, but I have always found the loud trumpet spots in this performance nearly ear splitting (and I am a trumpet player). Unnecessarily brash. Particularly the last movement. There could be reasons other than room acoustics, but I won’t make this personal. Horns and trombones are on point, but the trumpets are over the top and are the reason this is not one of my preferred recordings. It’s a pity because the playing in the other three movements, particularly the quieter spots, is quite lovely. All that said, Tennstedt performances in the US always seemed to create a sense of occasion. I attended a number of them and always felt that I had experienced something very special.

  • MacroV says:

    The first half of this concert (from spring 1990) featured Ray Still playing the Strauss Oboe Concerto (which explains his absence in this video); not long before retirement but his genius still evident, and Tennstedt’s conducting of the accompaniment was really dynamic.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    How terrific to see this wonderful conductor again!! Always a pleasure.

  • Monsoon says:


    That is all.

    • pjl says:

      yes! I heard him in Chicago in Mahler 6 and with the scherzo second as musical logic dictates (despite Mahler changing his mind). A very great musician.

  • Ljubisa says:

    Apsolutely right Norm!
    Deeply by very first note.
    In one word – MUSIC!

  • Rob says:

    Maazel was exceptional in this Symphony, especially in this performance

  • Amos says:

    Watched and listened to the performance the other day and the passion and commitment of all concerned was obvious. For once the CSO didn’t sound like the world’s greatest brass band until the end when it was appropriate. I’ve always meant to ask a Mahler expert if the final brass fanfare was appropriated from the Hallelujah section of the Messiah? Well worth a listen for the life-affirming qualities alone.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Mitropoulos was my introduction to the First, then Kubelik, Maazel, and especially Bruno Walter, who is particularly good in the klezmer parts of the second movement. Tennstedt is of their company and worthy of respect. No one hears or does everything. I’ve heard performances in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall that lifted me out of my seat and blew out the back walls., usually from the lower balcony. I don’t even remember all of the conductors, but I remember the music! Probably Solti, Haitink, and friends.

  • Jan says:

    Why not mentioning a REAL great conductor: Kiril Kondrashin! I remember this concert so well! “Delicious Manager” writes in the internet:
    The NDR Sinfonieorchester recording is especially notable because it was Kondrashin’s very last performance and recording – he was dead within a few hours of finishing the concert. He was, at the time of this concert, living in Amsterdam and just about to be appointed the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s principal conductor. Klaus Tennstedt was due to conduct Mahler 1 in the Concergebouw with the NDR orchestra, but pulled out at the last minute. As Kondrashin, a well-respected Mahler conductor and guest in Amsterdam, was in town celebrating his 67th birthday, he was asked to conduct the concert in Tennstedt’s place. Against doctor’s advice, he accepted and conducted the work on no rehearsal. Luckily, Dutch Radio was there to record the event. Kondrashin had a massive heart attack and died in his hotel room just hours after the performance. So, this is a spooky kind of tribute to the great conductor. Even without the back story, it’s a fantastic performance, well recorded.

    • Mike_T says:

      We’re not mentioning Kondrashin because this thread is about Tennstedt – it isn’t a competition. But you are right about Kondrashin’s performance – it is immense!

    • Donald Hansen says:

      Almost as fast as Boult’s 46 minute recording.

  • Adi says:

    I definitely feel Tennstedt was one of the very greatest of conductors. Heard Beethoven 3, 6 & 7 with LPO at Festival Hall in 1985/86. Though there were many great Mahler interpreters then and now, no living conductor could equal his Beethoven, only the reclusive Carlos Kleiber.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Possibly the best CSO concert I ever heard.

  • Bill Blake says:

    So many great performances in Boston…

  • decadeas ago says:

    Decades ago I heard on radio tennstedt do a Mahler Symphony and was rapt with attention. Best concert I ‘ve attended was Skrowaczeski (sic) and Minnesota play Mozart’s 40th. Oh, and then, after intermission, Mahlers 9th still remember that shocking fff

    Would folks suggest the Tennstedt Mahler performances they found most simulating?

    If like to purchase a disc…. Yes, one of those new fangled things.

    Thank you for considering. Oh, if possible a relatively modern recording. I’m not enlightened or pure of soul to fully embrace old mono recordings, unless per need

  • Mark Jenkins says:

    I was fortunate enough to be at both of the performances in Chicago, and, though there are a few dubs from the second performance, the majority of this was from the first night. Everyone in the hall, even the musicians (I was studying with the 2nd trombonist, and he admitted that the members of the CSO knew it was amazing) knew that this was a special night. I’ve never in my life, before or since, known ANY conductor to put as much of his whole being out there, without any reservation, every moment of the performance. Unforgettable experience! By the way, the video edit is different from the CD edit slightly), and the video certainly captures better the electricity of the experience.


      Mark Jenkins ~ You are correct, the video edit is different from the CD. I was the video director. At the editing session we intercut a few small sections from the second concert into what is mainly the first on this production. Glad you think it captures more of the electricity than the CD. I remember sitting in on Tennstedt’s rigorous but kindly rehearsal. It was a privilege and I wish EMI had shown the foresight to let us record it, with his permission.

    • Tromba in F says:

      Tennstedt performances always had a kinetic energy and sense of spontaneity. I was also struck by his humility. He did not seem to have the megalomania often found in the field. He seemed to be enjoying the performance as he conducted and didn’t seem to get in the way of the musical message. He was a treasure,.

  • David Sanders says:

    I had the privilege of playing in this performance of the Mahler 1 with Tennstedt. It was one of the highlights of my (so far) 46 years with the CSO.