Leonard Bernstein

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

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Leonard Bernstein's first recording of Shostakovich's Fifth with the New York Philharmonic was made soon after Bernstein and the NYP returned from a tour of the USSR, where their performance of the work was praised by the composer himself. It was an extravagantly emotional and extraordinarily harrowing performance, and one can readily understand why the composer and the record-buying public were so taken with it.

Bernstein's second recording of Shostakovich's Fifth with the New York Philharmonic was made in 1979 while Bernstein and the NYP were on tour in Japan, where their performance of the work was praised by audiences and critics. When this live recording was released in the United States, it was praised by critics and, once again, the record-buying public was quite taken with it.

A quarter of a century later, Bernstein's second recording of the Fifth sounds not extravagantly emotional but extravagantly sloppy -- listen to the botched tempo changes in the development section of the opening movement -- and not so much extraordinarily harrowing as extraordinarily self-indulgent -- listen to the unending banality of the coda of the closing movement. By way of comparison, listen to Rudolf Barshai and the MITO Chamber Orchestra's recording of Shostakovich's string symphony transcription of his Eighth String Quartet, which follows Bernstein's Fifth. Barshai's performance is as intensely emotional as Bernstein's, but precise, and immensely harrowing, but controlled. Anyone who loves Shostakovich should hear Barshai's performance, but anyone who loves Shostakovich should avoid Bernstein's performance. Sony's live sound was loud and harsh in its day and louder and harsher in this remastering.

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