Leonard Bernstein

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture; Marche Slav; Romeo & Juliet Overture

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Taped between January 1957 and October 1970, these Columbia recordings of Tchaikovsky's symphonic blockbusters by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic are consistently terrible. From the start to the end of his years with the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein was a consistently terrible Tchaikovsky conductor, the composer's hysterical histrionics matched by the conductor's hyperbolic hyperventilating, each bringing out the worst in the other. Never has Tchaikovsky's music sounded as incoherent as it sounds under Bernstein, with Marche Slav and the Capriccio Italien sounding like a series of unrelated musical events united only by a common interest in getting to the double bars. Never has Tchaikovsky's music sounded as excessive as it sounds under Bernstein, with the 1812 Overture and especially Romeo and Juliet sounding like a sequence of unrelated sentimental events joined only by the embarrassing excitement of the conductor and composer. Like the conductor, the New York Philharmonic was a consistently terrible Tchaikovsky orchestra, the composer's gaudy colors and heart-on-the-sleeves melodies matched by the orchestra's rude colors and crude playing. And like the conductor and the orchestra, the Columbia recordings made in the abysmal Avery Fischer Hall and the awful St. George Hotel in Brooklyn were consistently terrible, sounding clangorous, harsh, and far too close. And like everything about disc, the remastering by various skilled hands inevitably winds up sounding just like the awful originals except louder and clearer. These are surely among the worst recorded performances of these pieces ever made.

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