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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Leonard Bernstein at his bestFeb. 2 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Anybody familiar with Leonard Bernstein's recording of Franz Liszt's massive "A Faust Symphony" on Deutsche Grammophon knows what to expect from this DVD. This concert was filmed live in the Boston Symphony Hall around the same time as the studio sessions (July 1976), with exactly the same forces - the Boston Symphony Orchestra, tenor Kenneth Riegel, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Throughout Bernstein obtains marvellous results from the Boston players - focused, intense, detailed and transparent, and moulding Liszt's romantically volatile inspiration to perfection. He is slower than most, leaving the delicate and poetic passages ample time to breathe without dragging, while the demonic side of the music is rendered nowhere as feverishly as here. Bernstein is moreover supreme in keeping the long movements together and brings the finale to an overwhelming climax of power and light. It is Liszt in all his excesses, but it is also Liszt standing between Berlioz and Wagner, and even further Mahler. Tenor Kenneth Riegel sings most engagingly.
The picture quality is typical of the period, with rather washed-out colours. The sound quality (in PCM stereo or artificial DTS 5.1) is correct but nowhere near as dynamic and warm as on the CD recording. Director Humphrey Burton provides an agreeable mix of Bernstein and the orchestra.
For a first-rate rendition of one of the greatest but rarely performed symphonic works of the 19th century by one of its strongest advocates, this DVD is a clear first choice.
My arguments in favour of Lenny's inability to make something memorable out of Liszt's `Faust' Symphony I have stated in my review of the audio CD from DG Originals which features absolutely the same performers and was recorded around the same time. What follows below refers strictly to the technical characteristics of the DVD, though comparisons with the CD are of course inevitable.
To begin with, the picture is much too dark to be pleasant. It also is grainy and drab, almost colourless. One is surely wise not to expect anything spectacular from a 1976 video - but compare the quality of this picture, or lack of such, with Karajan's video concerts from the same period and the difference is glaring. Yet the picture is simply marvellous in comparison with the sound. It is horrible indeed, a great deal worse than the one on the CD, which is bad enough anyway; all defects here are amplified: lack of detail, dismally limited dynamic range, weak climaxes, shoddy woodwinds and even shoddier brass, thin and vapid strings. Even Humphrey Burton, ordinarily a fine director, does not seem in top form here, indulging is awkward group shots and sometimes even parting with the music. The sordid interior of the Boston Symphony Hall only makes it worse.
Since this DVD is, so far as I know, the only video recording of the `Faust' Symphony available, every Lisztian ought to have it in his collection. It is fun to watch from to time, but it is a major musical and visual disappointment nonetheless for that. Its best feature remains Lenny's trademark dancing on the rostrum: one of the most hilarious phenomena I have ever seen and one of best anti-depressants I have ever tried.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you love the symphony, you must have it!May 20 2010
Gerhard P. Knapp
- Published on Amazon.com
While most of his short symphonic poems are enduring masterpieces, Franz Liszt never truly excelled to the same degree in the larger orchestral forms. His two symphonies and two piano concertos are occasionally flawed by paucity of musical invention, by sometimes sluggish or repetitive developments, and by flashy or banal orchestration. The 1857 "Faust Symphony" displays some interesting chromaticism and daring tonal experimentation and certainly a lot of grandeur, but it fails to captivate some listeners the same way as roughly contemporary pieces by Berlioz, Schumann, Brahms and others. Therefore it never was overly popular with audiences around the globe and infrequently performed. There are, however, plenty of recordings by famous orchestras and conductors, most of which make a good case for the work. Among others, Beecham, Horenstein, Doráti, Solti, Barenboim and Järvi championed the symphony, and so did of course Leonard Bernstein himself in this 1976 recording, which has been available on CD for nearly 35 years and has attained cult status among the composer's and the conductor's followers. Although the DVD was recorded in a different venue from the CD, they are sonically and interpretively pretty close. The CD appears to have a better instrumental and vocal definition than the DVD, but I can only guess here, as I have to play them on different systems and my audio-only system is superior. The video quality is quite acceptable for the time period, Humphrey Burton's direction impeccable as always. It is revealing to compare Bernstein's rapport with the Boston musicians to his beloved Vienna Philharmonic with whom he recorded so much during these years. If you don't know the CD, here are a few words about the performance. As opposed to the other conductors mentioned (they all stay within the 70- to 75-minute range), Bernstein's tempi are very slow (ca. 79 minutes total), much slower here than in his own 1960 New York recording (72 minutes). He has an admirable grasp on the score as a whole and lovingly lingers on details often lost in faster readings. The downside is that the symphony comes off less gripping and "dramatic" than one could desire, and that certain passages, especially in the slow movement, seem interminable. Those who love the score will delight in Bernstein's detailed approach, but those who are lukewarm may find it all a bit too much. Kenneth Riegel is glorious in his solo, the choir and musicians are excellent, the last bars overwhelmingly powerful.