Leonard Bernstein Conducts Mussorgsky, Borodin and Shostakovich

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

This week's New York Philharmonic broadcast features historic recordings of Leonard Bernstein conducting three Russian Romantic classics: Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration of Musorgsky's Prelude: "Dawn on the Moskva River" from Khovanshchina, Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad." The latter piece was a calling card of Bernstein's.

The Russian-themed program also includes Kurt Masur conducing Giya Kancheli’s And Farewell Goes Out Sighing... with violinist Gidon Kremer and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin as soloists.

Program details:

Mussorgsky: Prelude: "Dawn on the Moskva River," Khovanshchina

Kancheli: And Farewell Goes Out Sighing…

Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad"

Comments [2]

Les from Miami, Florida

The Columbia recording of Bernstein and the N.Y. Philharmonic of the "Leningrad" Symphony is one of the few disappointments of this unique and celebrated maestro. There's a positively funereal beginning. But the big disappointment stems from what seems to me a calculated and uncalled-for accelerando at rehearsal number 45 in the first movement, one bar before the key change. It makes a jumble of the constand, persistent march rhythm in the snare drum (drums at that point). It's like making an accelerando in "Bolero" before the understandable (but unwritten) ritard in the final two bars of that work. Also, there's absolutely no reason at all to have cut the dialogue of the oboe and bassoon at rehearsal number 25 and resume at rehearsal number 29 with the trumpets and trombones. (It's not like the days of recording in the 78 rpm era when the record company dicatated the number of sides for certain works.) The second movement is too slow. Is it really "Moderato, poco allegretto"? It, in effect, gives the symphony two slow movements. The g sharp minor section (with the shrieking E flat clarinet), however, is at a convincing tempo, as is the expectedly elegiac --- and superbly played --- third movement; and likewise the last movement. The playing throughout is exemplary: the offstage horns, trumpets and trombones in the first and last movements are clearly audible and at an easily heard dynamic. The solos throughout are also examplary, particularly the intense vibrato provided by (presumably) principal flutist John Wummer), the equal of which I don't hear in any of the current orchestral concerts I listen to via , sadly, the internet these days. The touchstone performances with tempos I feel are more in sympathy with what Shostakovich asks for in this symphony are those of maestros of the past: Toscanini and Stokowski, both with the NBC Symphony, Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic --- they play their hearts out --- and Steinberg and the Buffalo Symphony. I haven't heard Bernstein's performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: it would be interesting to see if his final thoughts about the work parallel those about which I've been writing, or if there were changes about said same. I have no reservations or complaints about the Mussorgsky prelude or the Borodin piece: those recordings were like reading the score.

May. 26 2014 09:38 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Bernstein's live recording (DG) with the CSO of Shostakovich's 7th is still my favorite. It's close to perfection and for a live recording the sonics are so very fine and natural. My 2nd choice these days is from the Symphony cycle on Naxos with Vasily Petrenko and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; this is proving to be an important set of recordings and Petrenko's DSCH 7th is among the very best!

May. 22 2014 05:47 PM

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