on 1 May 2012
I must say that I bought this following some reviews of the DVD versions. Having expected that Bernstein would be totally 'inside' the first I was disappointed to find it self-conscious and unatmospheric. Indeed the unidiomatic, over-sized playing of the VPO is really the problem. Gloops string lines and uncontrolled brass are the biggest issue, so the entire final section of the last movement sound overblown, ruining the experience.
The Second receives similar treatment, but it responds much better as a piece to this kind of playing. I was left with a sense of enjoyment, though nothing like the same experience as with Vanska (Lahti NOT Minnesota), Ashkenazy (take your pick) Colin Davis (take your pick), Barbirolli or Alexander Gibson (Chandos).
I DID enjoy both the Fifth and Seventh much, much more I must say. The Horns really ring out in the finale of the Fifth, and I love the way that the lower strings unerpin everything by digging into their lines with real conviction.
The Britten pieces are not all that well played, but OK as fillers. You'd do much better with the LSO under Previn, or with Andrew Davis.
As for the Elgar, well I would say that it should be heard, but absolutely not as your only version of Enigma. That extraordinarily slow Nimrod draws some very amusing responses from most people - you can just hear that the orchestra is desperate to get onto the next note every second. It's actually fun to listen to this version, but only if you really know the work and understand that it's not Elgar's fault!
So in short I would buy this for Sibelius' 5th and 7th, and possibly to have a laugh at the expense of Bernstein's Elgar! Just crazy!
on 5 May 2011
I have only just received this CD set and after reading the negative review by Battle-Famous I went straight to the Enigma Variations to see what the fuss was about.
I have to say I am bowled over by this performance and it is worth the set to hear Lenny's Elgar (shame he didn't record more IMHO).
The recording is with the BBC SO playing their socks off and the string sound is like pure velvet. The playing is so intimate at times you almost thing you are listening to chamber music and at other times there is a grandness to the playing that is very uplifting.
Nimrod is VERY slow - agreed - but it made the hairs stand up on my neck and my eyes water. Lenny knew exactly what he was doing and the impact of this affectionate tribute to Elgar's close friend is full of emotion and warmth. A glass or wine, lights off and the music cranked up and you have no soul if this does not move you. My only regret is I can't write a letter to Lenny and say thank you.
Haven't listened to the Sibelius but already I am more than happy with this set.
on 11 April 2007
I try not to write reviews but this made me so angry: Battle-Famous, the previous reviewer, really doesn't know what he's talking about. This is an absolutely brilliant take on Elgar and just because it's not the same as all the other boring interpretations on disc doesn't mean it doesn't have significant value... This is an incredible record. Bernstein's speeds are thoroughly considered and, in my view, extremely authentic (whatever that word means). Before listening to this I found much of Elgar's music troublesome. Bernstein makes this a truly convincing performance of sincerity and passion.
on 12 March 2007
Bernstein might have been a good Sibelian, but he was certainly no Elgarian. His recording of the 'Enigma' Variations was the first to be released on CD in the 1980s, and it is a shame that some people might have snapped it up at the time and got accustomed to this version.
Most of the Variations are performed adequately (the orchestra is certainly trying its best) but Bernstein doesn't seem to realise that the music is the most important thing here, rather than the conductor's egocentricity. His version of 'Nimrod' is simply perverse: stretched out to three times its natural length and of Mahlerian proportions, it ceases to be a celebration of friendship, and a testament to the nobility of Beethoven's music, and becomes instead an overblown dirge.
His reading of the entire work is eccentric rather than enigmatic, and one wonders why he bothered as he clearly did not understand Elgar's particular sound-world.
The star is for the Sibelius symphonies, as the reading of 'Enigma' pulls this recording down so badly that it is best avoided.