Leonard Bernstein

Brahms: The Symphonies [DVD Video]

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Although made only two years before Bernstein's recording of the two Brahms piano concertos with the Vienna Philharmonic, this two-disc DVD of the complete symphonies shows a completely different side to Bernstein's conducting and interpretation of Brahms. Whereas the piano concertos were rigid, bland, and slow to the point of being pedantic, Bernstein's for the symphonies is much more energetic, forward-movement, and engaging throughout. The tempo variations between movements are much more appropriate here, giving a real sense of differentiation. What is regrettably not different between this set and the aforementioned DVD of the piano concertos is the Vienna Philharmonic's surprisingly faltering, lackluster performance. The string section is most often to blame. Despite seemingly adequate section sizes, the violins come across as sounding weak and timid, often failing to simultaneously articulate notes. The lower strings -- in particular the double basses -- are muddy and often lost in the texture. Overall sound quality -- whether in standard stereo or DTS 5.1 -- is not as clear or precise as it should be for a 1980s recording. In spite of the markedly better interpretation than the piano concertos received, this is still not a superior recording of these works and is probably more suited specifically for ardent fans of Bernstein's conducting.