Symphonies Nos 88, 92 & 94; Sinfonia Concertante
Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
C major DVD: 746408; Blu-ray: 746504 111 mins
The music of Haydn was a persistent thread throughout Leonard Bernstein’s career and consistently brought out the best in him. By the time these delightful performances were given in the mid-1980s, Bernstein was periodically accused of self-indulgence in other repertoire. That’s a charge that could never stick in these joyous performances of three G-major symphonies. Sometimes the raw tempo may be relatively leisurely, such as in the Largo of No. 88, and the ensemble is larger than many would now use, but it never feels slow or big- boned. Rather, there is grace, wit and charm aplenty, with the Wiener Philharmoniker on top form and Bernstein clearly enjoying every moment. Aside from the occasional grandiose passage in the Surprise Symphony, this feels like chamber music being made among friends so it is only natural that four should step forward as soloists in an attractive performance of the Sinfonia concertante.
Other than the occasional quaintly wobbly close-up, the pictures are good for their time, the rich colours of the Grosser Musikvereinssaal being clear, if a little dark. Movements are typically sharper on Blu-ray than DVD, while the stereo sound is excellent in both formats. Filming is generally tasteful, with close-ups mostly following the natural flow of the music. The final movements are irrepressibly spry, Bernstein having relished that to No. 88 so much that he gets the orchestra to repeat the whole movement. After a couple of bars Bernstein stops conducting, at least with his arms. A raised eyebrow, a twitch of the mouth or a slight nod of encouragement are all the orchestra needs, the camera concentrating on his face as it both encourages and reflects the cheerful music-making. It could be comic, but, as so often with Bernstein, it is mesmerising and heart-lifting, just like Haydn’s music.