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on 29 January 2015
Bernstein did not live to complete his VPO Sibelius cycle. Of the four symphonies recorded, I find the Tchaikovskian nos 1 & 2 to be absolutely admirable, being slow, epic, indulgently expressive performances in typical late Bernstein style.
Perhaps nos 3 & 6 which Bernstein did not manage to record were no great loss, for these neoclassical works don't fit in with Bernstein's late conducting style.
Of the remaining symphonies which Bernstein did record for DG, I find the 5th more memorable under Maazel with the same orchestra. Bernstein is expansive where Maazel is taut, with Maazel driving the VPO players relentlessly in the first movement, especially the quivering strings and the subsequent exhilarating release of energy in the transition to the scherzo/coda.
An important criterion by which the 7th stands or falls is the way the conductor shapes the three appearances of the great trombone theme. This theme should emerge from the orchestral texture and sink back into it seamlessly and yet retain its own distinctive contour. I don't find Bernstein's shaping of this passage totally convincing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 February 2014
endorse the favourable comments of the previous reviewers...this is epic Sibelius conducting of vision. LB's first in these performances generally received great critical acclaim but the rest tended to gather less enthusiastic reviews from the professional music critics. however, I find it hard to believe the reviewers could have been listening to the same works. LB is emotional but the results are fascinating and I wish I had the privilege of sitting through those concerts...but I have the next best thing in these recordings which come off better than some of his other live DG recordings....I wouldn't want to be without the distinctive perspective they offer on these Sibelius masterpieces.
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on 22 February 2016
For me this is absolutely the wrong way to conduct Sibelius. Bernstein constantly tries to squeeze emotion out of the music, with bulges in the phrases and unwelcome emphases to try and force home a point. This just converts the symphonies into some kind of generic Euro-Kitsch. As Michael Rohan points out:
"After the Fourth, he famously remarked that while contemporary European composers were concocting multi-coloured cocktails, he offered a drink of pure spring water. In his later symphonies, the epic Fifth, pastoral Sixth and close-knit, classical Seventh, external influences have long since dissipated."
I admire Bernstein for composing West Side Story and a small number of other recordings, but he was the wrong guy for Sibelius. Many others do it better, and much more idiomatically.
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on 2 April 2012
This is a superb recording.
The First Symphony is generally not considered as big as the other ones, like the 2nd or the 5th. Bernstein creates quite a psychological environment here, with jaw-dropping crescendos, and a hauting, noble atmosphere. The first and fourth movements are dashing, with an unparalled sense of drama and restlesness. There is a Sibelius here that we cannot hear in the other symphonies, a more heroic and elegiac one.
The Second is a wonderful account, and Bernstein seems to convey the architecture of the piece. However, Beecham's recording is even more dramatic; nevertheless, if you want a second version to compare to your Beecham one, this will be yours.
If the 1st and the 2nd already are wonderful reasons to buy this set, wait for the surprises the 5th and the 7th can bring you. Bernstein reads and plays them as an expansion of the 1st and the 2nd: drama, heroic pain, a romantic and cosmic sense of life.
There is fire in the cold landscapes of this music: and here you can learn them.
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on 2 June 2015
These are superb interpretations of Sibelius and good quality recordings. Excellent value.
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on 25 March 2015
Very good.
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