Beethoven/Britten

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven/Britten
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 in A
PERFORMER: Boston SO/Leonard Bernstein
CATALOGUE NO: 431 768-2 DDD
The compulsion is as much metaphysical as musical. You cannot listen in innocence to Leonard Bernstein’s last public performances at Tanglewood two summers ago, and if you tried, the audience reaction would shake you out of it. Pacing is consistently slow, but the inflated, super-aspiring strain of some Eighties’ Bernstein is transcended. The playing has a steady, implacable glare that unexpectedly recalls the final appearances of Otto Klemperer, another conductor who had lived harder, seen farther, and survived the consequences longer than lesser spirits. Listening once, closely, is unforgettable; too often might be devastating.

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You may not be able to take the Sea Interludes so drawn out, despite the intensity of the lyrical upsurges and a pounding insistence of articulation that makes the end of the storm like Janácek.

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The Beethoven sounds scrupulously thought out and controlled, with an introduction that has you hanging on every note of the ascending scales.The second movement begins with wonderfully lucid tuning, proceeds through a finely graded crescendo, and touches moments of utter bleakness when major turns back to minor. For once the Scherzo dances instead of sprinting (though the adagio espressivo Trio is hard to take), and the finale has a mighty swing with episodes of Schubertian stillness. Maybe the sentimentalist in Bernstein would have wanted to make his exit with Mahler 9, but this music of unstoppable energy makes the right epitaph.Robert Maycock