Customer Review

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential for all Mahlerians, 14 Nov 2006
This review is from: Leonard Bernstein: Mahler - The Symphonies [DVD] [2005] [NTSC] (DVD)
Until this set of DVDs was released last year, those wanting to hear Bernstein's Mahler had the choice of the 1960s studio performances on Sony Classical or the 1990s live performances on Deutsche Grammophon. These Vienna performances, recorded between 1971 and 1976 are more consistent than the Sony and DG recordings and in some ways combine the best features of both sets. In particular, the DVD collection contains two of the best ever performances of the 8th and 9th Symphonies.

The 8th Symphony gets off to an electrifying start and continues in this vein all the way through to the conclusion of the work. In between, Bernstein is sensitive to every mood of the symphony. This is undoubtedly a great performance. The DG set on CD includes a performance from Salzburg given around the same time, but this Vienna version is more polished - probably because it is edited from more than one concert. It is interesting to watch how Bernstein marshals the large forces. I was also amused to see Bernstein's autograph on the front of the organist's score, seen right at the start of the first movement.

The 9th Symphony, recorded in Berlin in 1971, is very compelling, with an almost unbearably intense performance of the final Adagio. The camera focuses rather closely on Bernstein's expressions here and I must admit I was tempted to shut my eyes and just concentrate on the music. However, it is interesting to see the string players as they watch Bernstein carefully during the very slow coda.

The 6th receives a very fine performance, especially in the finale. This was the last symphony to be recorded, in 1976. Incidentally, Lenny is sporting a beard here, making him look bizarrely like Sean Connery.

The 7th Symphony is one work that Bernstein performs consistently well in all three sets. If I marginally prefer the version from the DG set, it's because it's the version I grew up with. However, it's good to hear the Vienna Philharmonic playing this music and it is a benefit of DVD that one can see the large variety of expressions Bernstein uses to encourage the players' performance in the mercurial finale.

The 4th Symphony receives an excellent performance, and the 1st Symphony is not far behind. In fact, I prefer this recording of the 1st Symphony to the DG one (which I think is overrated).

For me, the least interesting performance is probably "Das Lied von der Erde". Although the contralto is the excellent Christa Ludwig, Bernstein seems to be working very hard to encourage the Israel Philharmonic and not getting much in return. I felt similarly about the 5th Symphony, a work I do not respond to very often.

The 2nd symphony, filmed in Ely Cathedral with the LSO, is visually arresting but for me the music lacks sufficient intensity. Bernstein's 1963 performance with the NYPO is much better, I feel.

Finally, I was expecting much from the 3rd Symphony, given the excellent of the 1961 recording. Much of the Vienna performance is very good, including a suitably craggy first movement. But the posthorn solo in the 3rd movement lacks atmosphere and the final movement is rather plain, with some poor playing from the brass players near the end.

I don't wish too much of these issues, as all Bernstein Mahler performances are of interest. However, I do have an issue with the sound recording. I've not seen anyone else comment on this issue, but it sounds as if the volume levels were trimmed in the 1970s to keep the dynamic range suitable for a TV broadcast. The result is that solo instruments and voices are often artificially loud while orchestral tuttis are often rather dimished. An example is the 4th Symphony, where a volume setting appropriate for the 3rd movement climax then results in Edith Mathis's vocal sounding far too obtrusive in the final movement. I imagine that correcting this problem would have required a lot of guesswork on the part of the engineers as to what the volume levels were supposed to be. However, the result is that I found myself having to adjust the volume level quite regularly to appreciate the music fully. This is unfortunate, as the sound is otherwise clear and well balanced.

There are no such problems with the visual interpretation. Humphrey Burton's directing is sensitive and imaginative throughout the set. There are some interesting documentaries as well, although annoyingly there are no subtitles for the rehearsal sequences in German.

Despite the problems with the sound, I have no hesitation in giving this set 5 starts. No other set of the Mahler symphonies is as consistently interesting or powerful, and at least half of the performances here are as good as any recorded.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Sep 2011 04:28:49 BDT
R. Mathes says:
Great review and completely on point. I disagree only on only a few points. This is Bernstein's best Fifth with a stunning and now legendary Adagietto at a length now unfashionably long. Glorious though. I very much agree about the last movement of the 3rd though. In many ways it's glorious. Beautiful and slow and sustained but just as it is about to reach the apex the Brass players completely lose focus and destroy the moment. Their pitch is bad, they break notes and ruin the entire performance almost. This is, after all, the climax of the whole symphony. It is extremely strange to me that Humphrey Burton would allow this. Did this happen at both performances??? They always filmed two. Did they not have a performance or a patch from the second run through that could have fixed this??? This was after all an edited concert recording. I am a professional music producer and arranger/composer. That moment is the REASON we edit.

This is very curious and very disappointing for Bernstein is a great interpreter of Mahler's 3rd. I was present for all the New York Phil performances of the 3rd in December of 1987 and they were extraordinary. The prizes of this set are the Eighth and the Ninth, still to this day the two greatest performances we have of those two symphonies in my mind. I know that is pure hyperbole but understand me. This is Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler which is a particularly special and hallowed thing and his Berlin 9th is unmatched but extremely patchy at times, his Amsterdam Ninth is willful and extreme, his early 9th in New York has none of this depth and intensity, and his ONLY other Eighth Symphony was in London in 1966 (he did the First movement for the opening of Philharmonic hall in 1962 but that is a kind of fun mess of a recording). This is all we have other than a badly recorded but occasionally wonderful Salzburg performance recorded a few days before these filmed concerts (with Margaret Price instead of Edda Moser and a great Trudilese Schmidt instead of Ingrid Mayr, the one sour voice on the video). These are treasures forever.

I think the 2nd is better than you think also but you are absolutely right about Das Lied. The Israel Philharmonic are just not up to the task here. They are a wonderful orchestra and have gotten better and better in the years since but back then in 1973 he was cajoling them like crazy and it didn't work. Humphrey Burton did not record the fourth concert of Das Lied because he thought he had gotten enough footage and he wanted to film a Brahms Lieder recital Bernstein and Ludwig were doing around that time. He apparently didn't have enough film to do both. Bernstein was angry because he felt they finally got it in that last (fourth) performance. I wonder whether he was right or just fooling himself. I have a feeling it was the latter as he was a hopeful and loving man. The orchestra was pushed beyond their limit. That score is very demanding. Listen to Bernstein's version with the Vienna Phil in 1966. It's magnificent, 100 miles away from the video one.

Essential viewing all of it though really, even the flawed third and Das Lied. We shall not see the likes of him again. I have been watching the Abbado Lucerne videos which are incredible but they are not emotionally involving in the same way nor do they plumb the depths as these do. There was only one Leonard Bernstein.

Posted on 20 Jun 2014 18:17:11 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 20 Jun 2014 18:18:03 BDT]

Posted on 2 Jul 2014 17:15:38 BDT
Received the Box, and the rehearsel dvd was
loose, With scratches.

This happens a lot.

The rehearsel dvd is the only one that can not be
purchased as a single, you have to buy the hole Box.

Amazon, I am tired of this.
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