Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 04/02/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Buying this Sony double CD set on Amazon Marketplace seems currently to be the only affordable way to get your hands on these two great performances. This live "Resurrection Symphony", recorded in Ely Cathedral in September 1973 and "patched" with a session at George Watson's College six months later, is also available on DVD. It is generally the one of the three Bernstein recordings of this symphony which gets overlooked, though I think it is markedly superior to either the earlier (Sony) or the later (DG) New York versions, by virtue of its extraordinary intensity and also because it features the best soloists of all in Sheila Armstrong and Janet Baker. Armstrong soars over the chorus and Baker intones "Urlicht" like one of Michelangelo's sybils.
The snag for some is the reverberant acoustic of the cathedral, but I think the engineers have tamed it well and allow the whole thing to emerge with enormous grandeur. Lenny takes risks with daringly etiolated tempi, but there is a spiritual intensity about the occasion which I find wholly convincing. The chorus are wonderfully responsive and energised, managing an impressive gamut of dynamics and singing like souls inspired; similarly the LSO sound like a virtuoso Mahler orchestra, clearly totally engaged by Bernstein's magnetism.
As if that were not sufficient, as a "filler" - some filler - we have Janet Baker's "Kindertotenlieder". Many consider her collaboration with Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic to be more expressive, nuanced and better vocalised even than the famous Barbirolli recording - and I agree.
The Sony Classics issue I have has a different compilation from this one under review. It consists of the "Resurrection" plus two invaluable bonuses - and here I quote from the Santa Fe listener's review of the earlier "Resurrection: ..." a moving live performance of the Adagietto from the Mahler Fifth at the funeral service for Robert F. Kenney in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a riveting "Veni Creator spiritus" from the Mahler Eighth, a live performance to celebrate the opening of Philharmonic Hall in 1962."
In whatever form you can get hold of any, some, or all of these various Bernstein performances - do it."