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A glorious performance in newly revived sound - Bernstein in excelsis.
on 27 April 2016
Previous reviewers have sufficiently and even laboriously toiled over the minutiae of the differences between Bernstein's three recordings of this symphony, so I shall simply summarise by saying that I find the last, Concertgebouw recording to have less personality and be more laboured than this mighty live performance, that the remastered sound on this DG Originals issue certainly beats the thinner, more distant sound in Amsterdam and that despite the virtues of the earliest recording on Sony, especially now that the already excellent analogue sound has been remastered, the New York Philharmonic is not as impressive an orchestra as the Berlin Phil in 1979, despite a few minor and negligible imprecisions - some of which have been absurdly exaggerated by previous commentators. All three are great accounts but if you must choose, this is the one to have, for its weight and intensity.
There is of course the issue of the missing three trombones at the climax half way through the finale, when a member of the audience most unfortunately had a heart attack, but that omission is hardly as fatal to the recording as the poor man's indisposition was to him. There is also Lenny's groaning and grunting to contend with, but I do not find it so distracting; the audible manifestations of his emphysema perhaps remind us of that shadow of mortality hanging over the whole symphony and Mahler's last years.
On the credit side, in addition to the sonic advantages and the supremacy of execution already mentioned, is Bernstein's supreme control of phrasing and rubato; he pulls back and lets go with an elastic flexibility of which the composer himself would, by all accounts, have surely approved. The music breathes, sobs and sighs; no Mahler Lite here. I want this symphony to be gloriously played on a large scale and to sound lush and indulgent - and here it is. The concluding minutes of the finale are as rapt, sweet and still as you could wish - marvellous.