An unreleased 1976 concert is the highlight here
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Long-time collectors will be attracted to this bargain Beethoven box by the previously unreleased Amnesty International concert from 1976. Bernstein was a supporter of Amnesty International from its founding, and here he conducts the Bavarian Radio Sym. Orch. in the Leonore Over. #, Sym. #5, and the Fourth Piano Concerto with Claudio Arrau. I wish I could say that the performances are a revelation, but in reality they are a fairly ponderous imitation of LB's heroic, robust Beethoven from the 1960a in New York. Did he consider such weightiness appropriate because of the earnest moral cause?
One amazing eccentricity predominates in the first movement of the Fifth Sym., when the conductor indulges in a huge unmarked ritard in the development section -- the music all but halts despite the Allegro con brio marking. Textures are heavy throughout, and Bernstein's attention to detail seems wayward and fussy at times. I say this regretfully as a huge admirer. The Fourth Concerto proceeds a bit at odds, with Bernstein showing signs of energy but being relentlessly held back by Arrau's tedious, studied pianism.
The rest of the set consists of previously released material: a moving Sym. #7 with the BSO at Tanglewood, his last public concert, issued as a memorial after Bernstein died; the famous Ninth Sym. performed at the sight of the demolished Berlin Wall; orchestral arrangements of Quartets Op. 131 and 135; the complete overtures that served as fill-ups for the Beethoven symphony cycle form Vienna; and the Missa Solemnis. Adding this material to DG's already issued complete symphonies and you have all of Bernstein's Beethoven recorded for that label.
I am of mixed mind about the overall quality and whether a buyer should amass every single note of BL's Beethoven, but nothing here is less than interesting. To me, the Missa Solemnis is wonderful, along with the BSO Seventh. The Vienna overtures are good enough but not inspired, while the Ninth Sym. from Berlin shows signs of indulgent excess now that the excitement of the event has faded. In the end, the attraction of the unreleased Amnesty International concert doesn't quite outweigh the drawbacks."