Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Vpo, Cbo
Director: Leonard Bernstein
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
In remembrance of his 90th birthday, Deutsche Grammophon releases a magnificent 7-DVD box set with Leonard Bernstein conducting and talking about the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. From splendid places in Vienna and Amster... more »
Bernstein highlights both the Classical and the Romantic Bee
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 08/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The very first integrated set of Beethoven symphonies that I ever acquired was an eight LP boxed set released by Columbia Records featuring Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. It was the Beethoven bicentennial year and the first liturgical performance of Beethoven's brilliant Missa Solemnis had just occurred in the Vatican with Pope Paul in attendance. The composer had dreamt of just such a performance whilst engaged in the Missa's composition. How proud he would have been that his Mass had finally been received in the setting for which he had composed it with such hope and excitement.
Beethoven is a titan whose genius bestrides the 18th and 19th Centuries. He is both the apotheosis of the Classical era in music as well as the great progenitor of Romanticism. For two centuries conductors have emphasized one aspect of his musical personality while merely acknowledging the other; rarely mingling both in a single musical alloy. Conductors tend to project their own musical personalities into their performance of the symphonies. In most cases either the Apollonian or the Dionysian aspects of the symphonies are emphasized. It is rare that both traits are given equal weight in performance because few conductors are blessed with the necessary musical schizophrenia to make it work. Leonard Bernstein was one of the few conductors for whom the complexities of Beethoven's multi-faceted musical character presented little difficulty.
This seven DVD collection of Beethoven's major orchestral works - including the Missa Solemnis - contains all of the positive aspects of Bernstein's approach to Beethoven. If you are familiar with Bernstein's recordings of Haydn, all of the same Classical poise and boisterous wit that he finds in Haydn's music can be found here as well. Bernstein welcomes Beethoven the country bumpkin, the high-spirited master of earthy humor and vivid emotions. The smaller scale symphonies: the First, Second, Fourth and Eighth are given particularly spirited performances, emphasizing their early rural roots as a transmutation of the Baroque dance suite.
The grander symphonies such as the 'Eroica', the Fifth, Six, Seventh and Ninth are the great harbingers of Romanticism and are drawn from a deeper well of feeling and insight. Bernstein releases his well-known passionate nature and artistic ardor from Classical restraint and invests these great symphonies with a combination of powerful emotions and sheer sensual delight. Some of the movements contain a frenzy of feeling that is almost frightening. The Scherzos of the 'Eroica', the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies are played with a frenetic energy suggestive of a kind-of delirium as Beethoven confronts his demons. The Missa is performed in the old grand style: vast and slightly overwrought, the way it was typically performed before the authentic performance movement simplified and energized the way the work was presented.
The Vienna Philarmonic is absolutely superb as is the Concertgebouw. These two orchestras are amongst the finest in the world and we can hear why they are considered so good. Bernstein elicits superb performances but he does so by stepping out of the way and trusting his musicians to deliver. The piano concertos are given intelligent and restrained performances by Krystian Zimerman whose technique is splendid. The Overtures are lively and dramatic and always entertaining.
The sound and video on these DVDs are several decades old and do not possess the digital clarity we are now used to. Nevertheless, if we allow for their age, these digitally restored films are perfectly clear with good though slightly restrained sound and no evidence of unpleasant artifacts.
Leonard Bernstein was an often enigmatic conductor who was not afraid to thwart expectations if it meant heightening the drama of a performance. His aversion to uniformity is what we find in this DVD collection of Beethoven's orchestral music. There is much to relish in this splendid box set from a conductor whose unique voice is sorely missed with each passing year.