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5.0 out of 5 stars Big Jim eats Felix, 13 Oct 2013
This review is from: Symphony No. 4, a Midsummer Night's Dream (Levine, Bpo) (Audio CD)
In the background, I've been having a debate with a civilised and learned man who, unlike me, is a trained musician. I have long maintained that Count Claudio Abbado the Impaler vandalised the Klang of the Berlin Philharmonic and irreparably so. This gentleman took me to task: the orchestra had been restless under Karajan's decades-long tyranny and was looking to make a break with the past; Uncle Claudio was more than happy to abet it.

This is perfectly understandable; it makes sense; even Richard Osborne - Herbie's court-biographer - refers to Karajan as a `Sacred Monster' towards the end of his reign: but to what vivid end, I ask, when I survey the flotsam and jetsam of Abbado's tenure: to what vivid end? I cannot answer for live-concerts that failed to make it into the public domain. Tell me: what other head-conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic has suffered the indignity of an entire Beethoven cycle being removed from sale because it is so insipid? Norrington aside, is there a worse Mozart Requiem in existence? Sure, there is some Mahler, Boris Godunov, Scenes from Goethe's Faust, the Bruckner Ninth on YouTube and . . . and . . . not much more comes to mind in way of redemption. It's death by the Via Media.

Here is another reminder why Big Jim Levine should have been empurpled in 1989. Dating from the year prior, this is a stupendous, take-no-prisoners performance of the Italian Symphony. The Berlin Philharmonic eats the music alive, bones and all and then burps at the end for good measure. It's saturated full fat - none of that lithe, transparent, diet offal - from the first note to the last. In doing so, they - conductor and orchestra alike - transmute this likeable work into an ultimate statement. Levine's pacing is infallible. It also prompts the question: after all this time, do we not have the right to be bored by Abbado's `scrawny-tom' Mendelssohn?

The excerpts from the Midsummer Night's dream are likewise a cracker. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays with a virtuosity that warrants comparison with the Berliners even if the palette differs. Judith Blegen, Florence Quivar and the Chicago Symphony Chorus are a delight on the ear. The score's mercurial side is unerringly caught - how suggestive it is of new states of being. What a joy it is to listen to this glorious music.

Both performances were remastered for this reissue. It's a winner. Note, you can still pick up the Italian with its original coupling - an equally great performance of the Scottish (Mendelssohn: Symphony No 3). That being said, the front-cover is not for the faint of heart - Big Jim resembles a Sacred Monster in his own right with the wherewithal to contest the hegemony of Ronnie Mac. All power to him!
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Symphony No. 4, a Midsummer Night's Dream (Levine, Bpo)
Symphony No. 4, a Midsummer Night's Dream (Levine, Bpo) by Felix Mendelssohn (Audio CD - 2002)
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