This is an amazing performance! The year the Berlin Wall fell, Bernstein led this international galaxy of performers in a once-in-a-lifetime concert. Under the spirit of the occasion, every time the word Freude ("Joy") occurs in the choral finale, Bernstein has his singers replace it with Freiheit ("Freedom"). Bernstein was always at his best when his emotions were fully engaged, and in this concert he gave one of the most memorable readings of the Ninth Symphony available -- in any format. Playing and singing are not only accurate, but imbued with the kind of feeling that comes only on a great occasion like this. The emotional centre of this reading is the dedicated and intense slow movement, never more heartfelt than in this concert. A DVD to treasure.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
The wait is finally over...Aug. 12 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
For those who have been dying to own a video-recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall, the wait - and all this torture and frustration we had in the past - is finally over...
For the first time on DVD, we can watch this legendary and moving concert at our own homes. We no longer have the excuse of not being able to relive this event because of limited production of video tapes and worse yet, LASER DISCS. We may have seen snippets of it in documentaries and such, but say goodbye to that too!
For those who don't know, this is a DVD worth watching. It's a piece of history in itself. The performance was held on Christmas Day, 1989, about a month and a half after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Celebrating the reunion of Germany and the rest of the world, Leonard Bernstein, a prolific American conductor and composer (including the musical "West Side Story") led a combined force of musicians from East and West Germany, as the United States, Britain, France, and Russia. Even a youth chorus was also invited to add more diversity. In the final movement of the symphony, he changes the word "freude" (joy) to "freiheit" (freedom), perhaps to give more emphasis that people are free from Communism, not to mention a possible fact that Schiller initially titled his poem "Ode to Freedom". Whatever the changes made, indeed "all men become brothers" in the concert... for the moment at least...
Bernstein, having less than a year to live, conducted the internationally combined orchestra rather slowly, much slower than what he did in his two previous recordings - not exactly preferable to my taste; I'm most used to the relatively fast-paced recordings of Herbert von Karajan, Eugene Ormandy, and Claudio Abbado just to name a few. It's generally even slower than the one done by Karl Bohm. Nevertheless, Lenny, the four soloists from respective countries, the choruses, and the orchestra sang from their innermost heart and soul. Some of the parts were done much better than what other conductors have done. For instance, the jubilant coda in the last movement in particular is performed with top-notch speed and almost inexplainable ecstacy, as if Lenny was storing his passion and power for that defining moment. The ovation itself was a moving moment; it seem to never stop as the audience showed their gratitude and appreciation to the performers.
For those who do know this, never hesitate to buy if, even if you own the audio-only version. Time to use both your eyes and ears to witness this historic and moving occasion.
(Just to let you know, the performance - excluding the "breaks" between movements and the applause - lasted more than 80 minutes. In the CD recording it lasted roughly 78 minutes. That is because it omitted the repeat in the "A" section of the second movement, to avoid using two disks, as each CD fits 80 minutes worth of music... although newer CDs are able to fit a little more than 80 minutes...)
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A Moving Historical DocumentJuly 31 2006
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989. On Christmas Day 1989, only six weeks later, due to the organizational skills of Leonard Bernstein (and others) an historic concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was given in the Schauspielhaus in the former East Berlin with instrumentalists and singers from a number of different countries. These included orchestra members from the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestra of the Kirov Theater of Leningrad, the London Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris. The choruses were those of Bavarian and Berlin Radio as well as, unusually, the Children's Choir of the Philharmonie Dresden. Soloists were June Anderson (soprano, American), Sarah Walker (mezzo, British), Klaus König (tenor, German) and Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass, Dutch). The concert was broadcast all over the world and the crowd in the plaza outside the Schauspielhaus could be also seen watching the event on television. I remember seeing the event but strangely remember it as having been an outdoors concert; obviously, I was mostly remembering that joyous crowd of Berliners outside the hall. One could see them and the audience inside the hall hugging in celebration of the event and of the new-found ability of citizens of the two Germanys to mix with each other again.
The thing that most people remember about this performance is that Bernstein had asked the choruses and soloists to substitute the word 'Freiheit' ('Freedom') for Schiller's word 'Freude' ('Joy') so that the fourth movement of the symphony became an 'Ode to Freedom.' (There is a comment in the DVD booklet suggesting that 'Freiheit' was what Schiller had wanted to use but hadn't because of political trends of the time. As I understand it, there is fairly flimsy evidence for that notion.)
As a performance it is typical late Bernstein. The camera focuses on him quite a lot -- and he already looks tired and sick, but joyful, too, and indeed he died only ten months later. But there is no flagging in his conducting. Like many of his later performances, this one is slower than earlier performances. The third movement particularly is exceedingly slow, but it is also exceedingly beautifully played and is quite moving. Of note is that the combined orchestras' principal winds (and, I believe, brass) exchanged places between the second and third movements. One saw them trading chairs and shaking hands as they did so. Stanley Drucker, the NYPO's principal clarinet, played like an angel in the third movement.
This performance had been released on VHS in 1991 but this is its first appearance on DVD. Video and sound are of their period and quite acceptable, as is the overall performance musically. I suspect most people who buy this DVD will do so because of its historical value.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Grand, Exuberant Paean to Freedom... Fine Multi-Region DVD from EuroArtsNov. 26 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I concur with the sentiments of the previous reviewers. This is a fine performance and an historic one that should have a proud place in anyone's musical collection. This celebratory Christmas Day Concert (1989) marked the fall of the Berlin Wall and the symbolic end of the Cold War. It was an eminently festive and joyous occasion that befits Beethoven's beloved work. It was broadcast live across the world and was recorded for posterity on both audio and video. In its spirit of brotherhood, the concert comprised performers culled from both sides of the once-divided city and from the four former occupying powers, all gathered together and led by that most inspirational of musicians, Leonard Bernstein. Even though he is in his 70s, the performance is bursting with energy and exuberance and the finale is a real paean to joy. Most people will know this as the Beethoven Ninth where Bernstein substituted the original word "Freude" (Joy) with "Freiheit" (Freedom), turning the famous choral finale into an "Ode to Freedom" (An die Freiheit). Seeing him here brimming with joy, passion and life, it's hard to believe that in less than a year, he would be gone.
I'd like to correct a few mistakes on Amazon's webpage. I got my disc through Amazon. It is a EuroArts Region 0 disc (playable worldwide), not Region 2. (All the EuroArts DVDs I receive from Amazon US are Region 0). It is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect (Full screen), not 1.77:1 or 16:9 widescreen as Amazon and the DVD's own backcover states. Picture quality is good, considering that it was recorded on video for a live TV-broadcast. Images are fairly sharp. Colors are strong and natural. It doesn't come up to the quality of the Bernstein-Mahler set but it is very good nonetheless. Sound is excellent and is available in PCM Stereo, DTS and DD 5.1.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
At last!Nov. 9 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I have waited many years to get a better copy of this historical and moving
performance of the Ninth than the one I downloaded from television at the
time of the telecast. Sad to see Lenny so sick, but politically pleased
that he, a Jew, could do this in the heart of Berlin!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Turning Point of an EpochSept. 23 2007
Joseph L. Ponessa
- Published on Amazon.com
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed to mark both the beginning and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. On 7 November 1918 (25 October in the Russian Calendary), the first anniversary of the Oktober Revolution was celebrated with a performance of Beethoven's NINTH at the Bolshoy Theater in Moscow. In attendance were all the top Communist leaders, including Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. Seventy-one years later, as the empire collapses, freedom is celebrated with performances of Beethoven's NINTH in Prague (16 December 1989), Berlin (24/25 December 1989), Wilnius and elsewhere. Vaclav Neumann's Prague performance in the presence of the new Civic Forum government has just appeared on DVD, and makes a nice pair with Bernstein's Berlin video. There were two Berlin performances. On December 24, Bernstein conducted the ensemble at the Philharmonie in West Berlin, and the next day he conducted the same forces at the Schauspielhaus in East Berlin. The home video release is the second of the two performances, probably the more successful of the two in musical terms because the first night was like a rehearsal for the second night. The whole Freiheit business is a humbug. Schiller issued two versions of his Ode, the first in 1789 and a revision in 1803. So he had plenty of opportunity to put in Freiheit if that was what he really wanted. Beethoven worked off of the second edition text of 1803, which for example reads «Alle Menschen werden Brüder» instead of the original «Bettler werden Fürstenbrüder», and for another example reads «Was die Mode streng geteilt» (which custom strongly divides) instead of the original «Was der Mode Schwert geteilt» (what by custom the sword divides). For his 1956 recording Jascha Horenstein favored the reading «Was die Mode frisch geteilt» (which custom briskly divides). As you can see, there are textual variants in the Ode, but the simple fact is that Schiller published Freude and only Freude, and Beethoven set to music Freude and only Freude. Thankfully the Berlin performance has set no precedent for future performances. On that one occasion, however, one must find the exception acceptable. All our joy at that particular time was about freedom. The VHS and laserdisc releases had murky picture quality, a result of a shoddy transfer from the PAL video system to NTSC. The DVD is a welcome upgrade. Beethoven left several great performances of the Ninth Symphony--his 1964 audio recording at the Manhattan Center with the New York Philharmonic, his 1970 and 1979 video recordings with the Wiener Philharmoniker, and this 1989 video with assembled forces. The best of the four is that of 1979, widely regarded as one of the best Ninths ever put on record, lamentably not yet available on DVD.