Leonard Bernstein / Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Leonard Bernstein's recordings of Gustav Mahler's symphonies have many admirers, and much of the praise they have received is due to the conductor's passion and commitment to the music, perhaps more than to the virtues or faults of specific performances. Whether one considers Bernstein's 1965 recording of the Symphony No. 9 with the New York Philharmonic on Columbia, the 1979 Deutsche Grammophon release with the Berlin Philharmonic, or the Concertgebouw's 1985 performance, also on DG, he has always been regarded as one of the leading Mahler conductors, though the variability and volatility of his interpretations have also brought criticism, even from his loyal followers. So it should come as no surprise that this recording of the Ninth with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra would be a mixed bag, with some of the Bernstein magic and some of the Bernstein missteps. Recorded in 1985 in Tel Aviv, the performance feels spontaneous and exciting, yet also a bit reckless, with the orchestra playing its heart out and Bernstein hardly worrying about the occasional inaccuracies, some of which are inevitable in a live recording, and others, such as the out-of-tune timpani, which are inexcusable. However, there is a serious miscalculation in the extremely fast tempo of the Rondo-Burleske, which the desperate players are simply unable to manage, and the exasperatingly slow tempo of the Adagio, which is solely due to Bernstein's self-indulgence. This recording is undoubtedly an important item for collectors who want any and all Bernstein artifacts, but it offers an imperfect vision of the piece with sloppy execution and noisy sound. For listeners who want Bernstein's best, the New York or Berlin recordings are preferable.

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