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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars

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on 20 March 2016
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) - often called "Lenny" - made many memorable recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. This contract started in 1972 with Bizet's "Carmen" and finally stopped in 1990 with posthumous CD release "Bernstein's Final Concert". Between these years Bernstein made hundreds of recordings and received some Grammy Awards.
This deeply personal and emotional Tchaikovsky's Sixth is surely one of the best recordings on the market. Bernstein's tempi were mostly very slow. He tried to reach the atmosphere of the first performance in St. Petersburg in 1893. For example, the total time of the famous "farewell" finale was over 17 minutes! But this decision wasn't a disappointment. Highly recommended!
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on 15 February 2014
Did I need another cd of this work? Yes, when it is this one. It is controversial. it is so very different. Does the infamy heaped on Bernstein's spaciously conceived final movement bring the work crashing around his and our ears? I have several sets of the symphonies in my collection and this is a recording I could not be without. It holds together. Ok so it is the longest final movement in recordings of this work but it is mesmeric and overwhelmingly intense. Not every conductor and orchestra could hold this together over such a span. where some hear Lenny the showman, I hear Tchaikovsky ...almost in a revealing way as if I had never heard the piece before... Genius is a much paraded term but I find that this is a genius conducting allowing me to hear something fresh in an established classical work that I thought I knew so well. This is the reason I buy different recordings of the same piece and go to concerts in the hope of connecting with something new. This is a highly desirable disc if you are prepared to be challenged.
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on 29 October 2014
Late Bernstein, as conducter, is unique. By adopting very slow tempi in pieces of the late Romantic period, he squeezes out every possible expressive potential inherent in the music, and no doubt adds further interpretative nuances of his own.
The DG cover shows a snow covered landscape, lit by a pale winter sun, extending to infinity. Visual association or no, the bassoon entry at the beginning of the work seems to come from an infinite distance. The acoustic space seems endless, the recording is beautifully spacious and seductively lit. This recording was made in Avery Fisher Hall, not a recording venue known for its distinguished acoustics, so it must have been Bernstein's sense of instrumental balance that produced such luminous sound.
The performance is slow, which enhances the feeling of infinite space (Celibidache is even slower than Bernstein in the first movement development, but Celibidache wasn't concerned with sonic magic). By using very slow tempi, especially in the coda to the finale, the finale has been utterly transformed into something extraordinary moving.
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on 1 February 2016
Yes, this is the (in)famous one with the 17 minute last movement ....

I first heard this recording when it was initially released, but my younger self could not reconcile Bernstein's vision with the performances that I was more familiar with, namely Mravinsky/Leningrad PO and Karajan/BPO/1977 (both DG). The chance to revisit this performance many years later was therefore too good an opportunity to pass up and I wondered how my older, if perhaps not much wiser self, would react to it. Yes, it is slow, the outer movements especially, but Lenny is his final years could often be quite inspiring and different, even if there were some notable misfires like the Sibelius Second from Vienna and the Mahler Ninth from Amsterdam. The Dvorak New World Symphony with the Israel PO is a mixed bag of a performance but one that contains a very special slow movement indeed, so worth anyone's time seeking out and listening to, if only for just the once.

I think this "Pathetique" just about falls into the latter category too. It is very well played by the NYPO with full and rich sound from DG. The first movement is about 5 minutes longer than usual, the last (at around 17 minutes), some 7 minutes longer than the norm. Even the third movement March is slightly slower than we are accustomed, making it sound more effortful than usual - perhaps that was the intention, for Bernstein makes no attempt to hide the fact that he views this work as an "act of dying", a bit like his view of the Mahler Ninth Symphony. This is all wrong of course. Tchaikovsky wouldn't have known this was to be his last symphony when composing it. There were no ominous man dressed in black commissioning a work about death, as with Mozart; nor was there the ill health and very obvious tragic events which blighted Mahler's later life either; but I suppose it's another view of a masterpiece.

The miracle is that it all hangs together - certainly in the first movement, the extremes of tempo changes really shouldn't, but somehow they do; just. And that is the point - some parts of the symphony respond very well to Bernstein's daring (the great soaring string dominated climaxes of the final movement, for example), other parts just seem too slow, merely wrong. Perhaps it is too easy to label it "Mahlovsky" but that is what Lenny makes it all sound like, even if he almost persuades you that this is how it should be done. For me it is probably one of those recordings that you need to hear at least once in your lifetime or, as in my case now, twice - I just don't think it contains enough Tchaikovsky for me to want to hear it much more often.

But it is still a very unique experience !
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The main observation to be made about Bernstein's 1986 recording with his New York Philharmonic is the time taken. It comes in at around fifty-nine minutes in length, the slow pace being concentrated mostly in the outer movements; the first movement is about five minutes longer than standard, the last movement seven minutes longer.

It's thus a slow but never languorous interpretation, made when Bernstein was sixty-eight years old. Perforce it loses some of its potency and grace by its slower pace, but it does in fact lend a greater majesty to aspects of the finale.

The sound quality is very good, but somehow I wished that of the orchestration was clearer.
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on 7 September 2009
I expected really powerful and moving reading by Bernstein, but what a disappointment! Two inner movements are just fine, but the outer movements that he gets completely wrong, with vulgar exaggeration and bizarre tempo fluctuation. The music is pulled from all directions and the lack of coherence weakens overall impact of the great symphony. The first movement is the worst.

If you've already got the great recordings by Karajan, Ormandy (RCA), Reiner, Martinon, Svetlanov, Solti, Mravinsky, Furtwangler (Cairo Live), Giulini (EMI) etc, there's no need to add this one to your collection.
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on 15 February 2011
It is true that there are more textual interpretations of Tchaikovsky's 6th than this: Mravinsky, Fricsay, Cantelli, Toscanini, Reiner, Monteux, Dorati... And more coherent versions scaled and structured with outbursts (Mravinsky, Svetlanov) or more "romanticized" readings (Mengelberg, Furtwängler).
It is also true that the tempi Bernstein chooses for this version are larger: he takes 5 minutes more than Cantelli and Toscanini just in the first mouvement.
But if you are interested in a version that is also an interpretation, a reading deeply rooted in the nature of this symphony, "pathos" (suffering), as a farewell to life and music, it is all here. And, after some time, Bernstein will show how coeherent he is in the overall approach of the music: the two central mouvements sound "fake", with a plastic joyfullness - exactly like Mahler's 9th. After hearing this version, I could finally understand Mahler's 9th, Mozart's Requiem, Bruckner's 9th, Brahms 4th. It is the end of music for a composer, a requiem that embraces all life and music in the same expectation.
This is an experience. An excessive one. If you want to enter deeper in the essence of music, this kind of alchemy will poison your soul.
It will never be "your only" version of Tchaikovsky 6th. For a more balanced version, try Fricsay, Cantelli, Mravinsky, Toscanini. For a musical excess, for a rebirth through death, drink this, as if it was Tristan's drink.
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With innumerable versions of Tchaikovsky's sixth symphony available, there are many better choices than this poor CD. Released towards the end of Bernstein's life, the whole symphony has been pulled about and bears little comparison to his "rivals".

Bernstein is just too darned slow in the main; everything sounds wrong to me.

Many recordings by Bernstein are great - not this one!
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on 27 May 2015
Good recording
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