Bernstein's Mozart is romantically afflicted, therefore I'm
dv_forever | Michigan, USA | 04/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Deutsche Grammophon continues to litter the landscape with countless reissues of their prized catalogue devoted to their all-star roster of artists. I don't personally own this particular box but I do own most of the performances included here in previous releases. Just a couple of years ago DG had Bernstein's Mozart symphonies coupled together on a "Trio" set. That was an economical way of owning Bernstein's final ventures into Mozart's illustrious symphonic canon. Here they are again, but now you to have to buy the rest of the non-symphonic works too. If you've never owned any of this stuff before, this is an easy way to catch up. The sound quality remains the same. But it was always quality digital, therefore no need for any remastering. There is a lot of stuff here that is labeled a live recording but that includes studio touch-ups. We get the best of both worlds, studio quality sound with an electric sense of a concert event.
First the symphonies, all played by the Vienna Philharmonic... the major hurdle in appreciating Bernstein's take on the symphonies has to do with style. If you are a period-instrument enthusiast, there is no need for you to venture here. ( Unless you are an open-minded period enthusiast. ) For those that love Mozart on modern instruments and played by a good sized orchestra, there are still hurdles to overcome. It comes down to how do you like this music to flow. Bernstein is warm and lush and vital and loving but his speeds could use an injection of fuel. This issue comes up right away with the famous opening of the 25th symphony. This music is sinister grace incarnate. It should have an edge that separates it from everything the young composer wrote before in symphonic form. Bernstein takes a pleasant stroll through, where's the bite? However the andante is beautiful but I can't recommend this performance because it lacks the tragic nature of this music. Instead try Bruno Walter. Marriner is good too if you want a chamber orchestra.
The 29th symphony is more of a success in that it responds to a heavier approach. Still I craved for Bernstein to push the tempo! He's too laid back. On modern instruments, Abbado also has a fine version with the Berlin Philharmonic.
Moving on to the actual late symphonies, 35-41, Bernstein succeeds in the Haffner but he's no George Szell, still unbeatable. The Linz and Prague are big-scaled essays and Bernstein matches up well against many versions on modern instruments and yet I still prefer Karajan here. The final three is where you have a smorgasbord of competition. Wand and Karajan surpass Bernstein in the 39th, Furtwangler and Szell beat Bernstein in the great 40th symphony in G minor. Frankly Bernstein is just too slow in a lot of places. All the symphonies are hampered by stately minuets and andantes that run a tad too long.
The Jupiter explodes with fireworks, a big-scaled reading. Bernstein repeats both sections of the final fugal movement, making it almost as long as the big opening movement. I have to be honest, taking all those repeats in the finale can get irritating, making you glad the symphony finally concludes. For alternatives, there is Szell, Wand and Karajan, all among the greatest on modern instruments.
I've never heard this recording of the Clarinet Concerto, nor the 15th Concerto for Piano, so I won't comment on them except to say they are performed by Peter Schmidl on clarinet and then Bernstein himself for the piano concerto, both backed by the VPO.
The choral music included here should surprise some who worry about Bernstein's affectations. All the pieces are done by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and it's accompanying chorus. Ave Verum Corpus is given a gorgeous account and Arleen Auger sings the Exsultate Jubilate. She also sings the soprano part in the C Minor Mass. This honey-voiced angel died far too young and here is her sublime interpretation of the soprano part in Kyrie Eleison. Bernstein's conception is massive, a true Romantic reading and it works wonders! Again a live recording, not perfect in ensemble but with such emotion and dignity that it overcomes it's faults. Karajan has a competing C Minor Mass on Karajan Gold but Bernstein overwhelms him and every other modern instrument version I've listened to. If you are not one of the period posse and can respond to genuine music making, this will be one of the best C Minor Masses you're likely to hear.
The Requiem is also grand but not on the same sublime wavelength as the Mass. There is a touch of dawdling here and there for effect and there is no Arleen Auger this time, instead we have Maureen McLaughlin. I'm not familiar with her at all outside of this performance. All the soloists do fine jobs both in the C Minor and the Requiem but none stand out with the expressivity of Auger.
In short, there is a lot of good stuff here but only the C Minor Mass I would claim is a must own recording. Well, I can say the same for the Ave Verum Corpus too. The Mass is still available coupled with the short choral piece on a single CD. Good to know that you can buy the best performance in the set on it's own. On the other hand, if Bernstein's take on Mozart intrigues you, then this DG bargain box is the way to go. It's a good deal. Buy it on the Amazon marketplace and make it a great deal!