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5 stars for symphonies 1 & 2
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.