Leonard Bernstein

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, Op. 67

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Leonard Bernstein's famous 1956 lecture "How a Great Symphony Was Written" is tight, witty, and lucid. It's short, sharp, and always to the point. It's entertaining, edifying, and informative. It's a pleasure to listen to from start to finish and anyone who wants to understand the process by which Beethoven composed the opening movement of his Fifth Symphony will be fascinated.

Unfortunately, Leonard Bernstein's famous 1961 recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic is everything his lecture is not. It's sloppy, sappy, and dreary. It's long, dull, and not always but too often discursive. It's self-absorbed, egotistical, and narcissistic. It's too slow and too heavy. Its attacks are careless and its ensemble is shoddy. Its tone is coarse and its textures are thick. Its balances are weighed toward the biggest instruments and its dynamics are weighed toward the loudest instruments. There are dozens if not hundreds of better recordings of Beethoven's Fifth available, but only Bernstein's with the New York Philharmonic is coupled with Bernstein's wonderful Beethoven lecture. You have to take one with the other, but you only have to listen to one and not the other. Sony's stereo sound was rich, deep, and detailed in 1961 and Sony's digital remastering makes it sound the same but better in 2006.

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