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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony No. 7 (1812) [34:12]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris
(1928) [17.44]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Beethoven)
RCA Victor Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Gershwin)
rec. live, Boston 1957 (Beethoven); studio, New York 6 December 1947 (Gershwin)
Digitally remastered in Studio Vignate, Milan, August 2008
IDIS 6556 [51.04]  

 

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This CD is a glorious reminder of the inheritance of Leonard Bernstein the conductor. He is the focus of this eclectic disc and features on the front cover. These are historic recordings from 1957 (Beethoven) and 1947 (Gershwin). They are described as “Live Studio Recordings - aren’t they all? Anyway, the young Bernstein meets Beethoven head-on. Is it a collision? 

The first problem you will meet is the sound of these fifty and sixty year old recordings. Perhaps it’s unfair to say that it is rather boxy and that many details are inaudible. Perhaps I shouldn’t comment that there is at times distortion in the loud passages and as a result of the higher frequencies in woodwind and strings. No, it’s the performance that matters and it is a powerful one especially in the finale which bounds on with unflagging energy and vim - typical Bernstein you might say. His popularity was such at this time that the following year he was made musical director of the New York Philharmonic. 

When judging older recordings you may be concerned about sluggish tempi. Well I don’t have a problem with Bernstein’s; he is quite modern in this regard despite what sounds like the huge almost unwieldy vastness of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at this time. They play their hearts out for him; nothing thin and emaciated here except, that is, the transferred sound. 

Let’s just make a comparison with more recent recordings played by ‘authentic ensembles’. Bernstein’s overall playing time of 34 minutes is amazing. John Eliot Gardiner in 1994 takes almost 39 minutes on Archiv. That’s the same length as the version by Anima Eterna under Immerseel in 2006 on Zig-Zag Térritoires. Harnoncourt in the ground-breaking set for Teldec (c.1990) takes a minute longer than these. I won’t go on but as you can see there is no flabbiness with Bernstein. 

Surprisingly enough the recorded quality of the Gershwin is much better in every way. In addition this is a really terrific performance: energetic, fun and yet full of romance when it’s most needed. At this time Bernstein was in the midst of a three year contract with the New York City Symphony Orchestra and only a few years previously had been a sensation when standing in for Bruno Walter. The orchestra is playing on home turf as it were and Bernstein whips them into line in repertoire that was very much his own. The strings sound fresh and the woodwind playing is neat and clear. This is a very successful transfer. If applause worries you then the Beethoven has about two seconds of it and the Gershwin none; it’s rather a pity. 

The booklet notes are non-existent: just a picture of a thoughtful Bernstein with his iconic ‘ciggy’. It might have been nice just to have had a few remarks about the recordings and/or the music. 

So if you’re a Bernstein fan you know what to do, if not then you could just add this disc to your library in the ‘curiosities’ department. 

Gary Higginson 

 





 


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