Leonard Bernstein

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6; 1812 Overture; Romeo & Juliet; Francesca da Rimini

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Even the most passionate supporters of Leonard Bernstein will acknowledge that these recordings of Tchaikovsky's Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, plus a selection of the Russian composer's popular orchestral works are not the only recordings of these standard repertoire works one should hear. In the three discs of symphonies with the New York Philharmonic, there are simply too many technical flaws to let pass. Recorded mostly live, the New York musicians make numerous technical mistakes, blowing entrances left, right, and sideways while scrambling to keep up with their hyperbolic conductor's beat and gestures. And the New York is a model of musical excellence compared with the Israel Philharmonic in the single disc of orchestral works. The Israeli players' raw tone, crude colors, and rough-and-ready ensemble make the Marche slave and the "1812" Overture sound even more garish and bombastic than they already are. Bernstein's admirers will rightly point out that the incredible intensity and overwhelming conviction the conductor brought to the music often more than compensates for these flaws. But while many, perhaps most, listeners may agree with them, finding in these performances an emotional candor and personal charisma that carries all before it, others may object that the conductor's precipitous cues, inflated gestures and distended tempos make these performances too idiosyncratic to be first choices. Deutsche Grammophon's early digital sound is clean, clear, and so vivid the listener can all too easily hear the conductor stomping on the podium.

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