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At last some of the finest performances Mahler & Bernstein o
Francisco Yanez Calvino | Santiago de Compostela, GALIZA, Spain. | 11/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Finally DG has released this very long waited cycle on DVD, one of those key moments in the interpretation of Gustav Mahler's music in the last century. Many of us sent mails to the Hamburg based company in order to they launch this DVD box, which they waited to release until this anniversary of Bernstein's death, in October, 1990. At last Deutsche Grammophon did it and with the bonus of Das Lied von der Erde, with Israel, and three documentaries very, very interesting, all of them joining together Mahler and Bernstein. I miss, anyway, the lieder sung by Thomas Hampson, recorded by Unitel in video too. A really outstanding pack, one of the most interesting released in the last years, and the first one in which you can listen and watch all the symphonies composed by one of the most important musicians of all time, in my opinion, conducted by the man who thought about himself he was the Mahler's heir.
What we have here is a group of performances in which the common presence is that of Gustav Mahler as composer, Leonard Bernstein as conductor and the film director Humphrey Burton, whose work has a common style from the very first record (Mahler's Ninth in Berlin, 1972) to those shot in London (2nd) and Israel (Das Lied von der Erde). The symphonies released come from different years, and not all the concerts are taken in one concert day, some of them are made joining together performances of the same work from different days (you can even watch different people in the public in the different movements). The style of shooting, the film edition, the rhythm... is very typical from the `70s. That's great in the sense you can smell a time, a period that has gone and which many listeners will remember with some nostalgia, some others, on the other hand, could be `disturbed' by those glasses, those clothes and those hair-dressings, anyway, if you are focused on what the performances are, you will not be worried about anything else.
This cycle represents a middle point in Bernstein's career and a central moment in his long term relation with Mahler's music. I know quite all Bernstein performances of Gustav Mahler's music and for those who only know them on CD I could say the most similar to this one you can listen is the historical and marvellous version of the 9th with the Berliner Philharmoniker, released by DG. It's a Mahler not so fresh and young like the one Bernstein has recorded for CBS (now released by Sony), but much more precise, clear, well technical done, better in the orchestral response... It's not so personal and mature like the final cycle on CD (DG), but a bit more `objective' (if we can use this word associated with Bernstein's interpretations), perfect and full of passion. So, for many people and critics, is the moment in which Bernstein gave his best on Mahler's music, the `70s when the maestro was fresh, inspired and he conducted that wonderful machine like the Wiener Philharmoniker is.
Of course, it's impossible, in an Amazon review, to go into every symphony, describing its music, its origin or the technical and meaning explanation of the works. In a very similar way, analysing all these performances here it's quite impossible; so I'll write only a few and general words about them. I'll use LB for Leonard Bernstein and WP for the Wiener Philharmoniker.
First Symphony is played in this DVD really very fine, with a higher level in many of the players than the other LB's recordings. First movement is wonderful clear and precise, beginning a full symphonic world out of nothing, out of the silence, in an act of believing on LB's hands. Fourth mov. Is amazing because of the WP's playing, specially the power of the brasses. 2nd and 3rd movs. Are good too, but in general terms I prefer Chailly for this symphony, for his technical and highly musical conducting.
For those who didn't know LB's version of the 2nd, it will be a really surprise, as the performance is glorious and, like in his NY recording for DG, full of spirituality and faith. The orchestral sound it's not so great like the WP, but it worth to listen them on fire by the very passion LB's conducting. Anyway, LSO had a good moment in the `70s. Singers are very good and the chorus, curiously conducted by LB in some parts (with very subjective silences and diction), gives a final part that is really glorious, as the symphony asks for. Very atmospheric and `religious' recording in a temple, which is very correct for the work. A very fine version.
The Third is a jewel, as I hope before listening it, because of the NY recording (DG). LB understand specially well this symphony and gives us a master version, in my opinion one of the better available, together with Abbado (WP), Chailly and the own LB (DG). All in this Third is breathtaking but, what can I say of the last movement?... What's inside that piece?, What kind of miracle or love has inspired it?; there's no doubt LB knows something about it.
Fourth is very good too. LB has explained his ideas about this work a lot of times and he understand the work in a very ironical way, as we listen in the final mov, much more better sung than his `experiment' with a child voice in his DG recording with the Concertgebouw. Together with Chailly my favourite version.
Fifth is very, very similar to his DG recording with the same orchestra. Not much to say about it, those who know that version understand that we are in front of one of the better performances of the work.
Like the 5th, the 6th is very close in style to the late DG recording on CD. This is a bit more fast and more fresh and aggressive than the late recording and it's technically perfect, like the CD. It's great to watch all the players in a so complex score like this. Wonderful and, together with the own LB (DG), my favourite version.
The 7th Symphony (Sch?nberg's favourite), doesn't sounds in LB's hands so modern like other conductors do (I think about Chailly, my favourite version); so I miss more modernity in his conducting. Anyway it sounds very, very good in his romantic style, specially the charming Nachtmusik.
The 8th is, in my opinion, together with the 3rd and 10th, one of the better versions in this pack. It's not the same that DG has released in the CD cycle, that one was from Salzburg and this was recorded in Wien, with quite the same singers. Marvellous, glorious, romantic, splendorous... Everything is very fine in one of the better versions ever recorded.
We have to remember LB used to say that Mahler composed the Ninth Symphony for him, even this is not truth, watching Lenny in the rehearsals and the live concert (in Berlin) you can believe it. Great performance very close in style to his Berliner recording of 1979, but not so amazing and visceral like the '79 version. Anyway, a jewel too. The 10th is the same DG has released on CD. One of the better Adagios available in CD and now on DVD, amazing and very well understood by LB.
Das lied is one of LB's favourite works and it's played in a very expressionist way, like his recording with the WP for Decca, which is really better than this. Great the singers, quite good the orchestra.
The DVD Bonus includes some documentaries which you must watch if you love Mahler's music. Some of the reasons for LB's performances are explained here with conviction and passion. Marvellous.
From the technical point of view; the recordings are really great for being from the `70s, that's more than 30 years in some cases, but not all of them sounds in the same way. We have incredible recordings, like Mahler's 4th, which has quite no noise and which sounds glorious, the First Symphony is amazing too (the first movement, which begins quite in silence doesn't have noise at all), together with symphonies like the Fifth or the Ninth in which you can listen not so great recordings, even those are OK, but not so great like the others. The recordings from the Musikverein seem to be a little better, and those from London and Israel are good too, even Das Lied von der Erde is the one with the most different sound, in some moments quite rare. I had some DVDs released previously of this cycle and the sound is a little better now, as it was remastered again with the new DG's technologies. From the filming point of view, we have clear shots, usually very well done and that use to go to the correct instruments. Bernstein is very well taken in many moments, his full body conducting or his face expressions which communicates so much. The image quality of the documentaries is not so good, as some of them probably have not being restored, but is good enough to enjoy them. There's something very unpleased in this extras, and it's that in the rehearsals, when Bernstein talks in German there's not translation or subtitles, something that could be easy done, a really mistake by DG's editors.
If I have to tell the truth, the media for this versions should be Four Stars, because I know some other more perfect performances, specially Chailly's cycle (Decca), but in his style it's unique and a monument of Mahler's interpretation.
The final conclusion is we are in front of a work of cultural status, a clear example of what the music industry should do for give back to the present days those moments of the music history which are key moments, and which, in some way, define what we are today and the way we understand some of the great composers and maestros from the past. Thanks DG, you finally did it.... And, of course, like it's said in the final part of Berio's Sinfonia, third movement; thank you Mr. Mahler, Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Burton. "
Martin B. Haub | Gilbert, AZ United States | 05/11/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"My comments have nothing to do with music, only production. I have received, and returned, two sets of these for an inexcusable manufacturing defect. In both sets, the disk that said it contains symphonies 4 & 5 actually contains 1 & 2. The label was misprinted. How many more sets are out there like this? How many returns will it take to get a correct one from Amazon? Shame on DG!"
R. D. Pittman | St. John's, NL Canada | 01/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Mahler and Bernstein at their finest. Worth every penny. In fact, I would have paid much more. The performances (while not all flawless) are energetic, emotional, beautiful and intense, with not a detail of the scores missed and not a note played without importance. The soloists and choirs are superb, and the video work in the various venues is excellent. DG has also done a great job in cleaning up the original tapes for far superior sound and video to some earlier releases.
Also, the documentary/rehearsal disc provides unique insight not only into the methods of Bernstein, and the music of Mahler (both in the actual rehearsals, and Bernstein's analyses and commentary), but interestingly into the arrogance of the Vienna Philharmonic. It's very interesting watching them resist Bernstein's emotionalism in rehearsal, but really letting go over time in performance.
Well worth it."
Bernstein IS Mahler!
Mr. R. Lee-van Den Daele | Shipley, England. | 01/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not my words, actually - rather those of Edward Seckerson on (British) BBC Radio 3's "Building a Library" classical CD programme, after choosing Lenny's Mahler 1 with the Concertgebouw as his top recommendation.
To hear Bernstein conduct Mahler is tremendous; to see him is positively wonderful. No-one could accuse him of not giving his all to realising the composer's intentions and these testaments to the art of real conducting show the blood, sweat (plenty of that in evidence) and tears that Lenny willingly gave to bring Mahler's compositions to life.
Bernstein cajoles the VPO (who, let us not forget, at this time in the late 60s/early 70s still regarded Mahler as a third rate composer), caresses them, summons up the creepy and often downright sinister Mahlerian aural landscapes and in climaxes sets a torch to the orchestral sound with such commitment and involvement the viewer really cannot sit dispassionately by, but is forced to join conductor, singers and and orchestra on their voyage of discovery.
DG have worked wonders on the image and the DTS sound is excellent (especially given the age of some of the films).
The bonus disc covers Lenny in rehearsal and is a fascinating document covering Das Lied von der Erde and the gut-wrenching 9th symphony and he talks absorbingly (swathed in cigarette smoke - marvellously un-PC!) about what Mahler meant to him and how he approaches the music.
If you love Mahler and don't buy this wonderful set while it's still available, you need cranial surgery.
Recommended wholeheartedly and without a moment's hesitation. Marvellous!
The Perfect Mahlerite: A Commentary on Bernstein's Genius
Siegmund | Chicago, IL | 04/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I became a passionate Mahler fan a few years after I started taking classical music seriously in college. As my passion grew, I actually didn't much care for Bernstein initially, but now I consider his cycle for CBS to be the greatest complete cycle on disc. The performances on these DVDs are as good as or better than the ones on CBS.
I have no complaints about the quality of the video. It does appear to be at TV resolution, but for me that does not detract from the care used to shoot it. I find the cameras to have been well-placed and well-aimed (trying to avoid using the word "cinematography" here). The images are used to enhance the presentation of the music in a very natural way, almost as if I were sitting in the audience with binoculars following the melodic line as it bounces across the orchestra. The different halls add an air of discovery as you follow the Maestro around the world, and they prevent the cycle from becoming visually repetitive. Most importantly, Bernstein clearly demonstrates that he lives each performance.
I received a used copy as a gift for Christmas. It had the mislabeled DVD claiming to be Symphonies 4 and 5. I emailed Universal about the problem, and they asked me to send the defective disc to an address in Germany for inspection. I got a replacement disc in the mail about four weeks later. Though everything worked out in the end, I was unhappy about the difficulty I had in identifying whom to contact about the problem from phone calls to Universal and scouring the DGG Web site, DGG's poor communication during the replacement process, and the long wait for a replacement. Since the mislabeled discs seem to be a common and known problem and since record companies are paranoid about losing customers these days, one would expect that DGG would have a better system for replacing mislabeled discs."