Bernstein’s Mahler (1972-77/2010)

by | Aug 26, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Bernstein’s Mahler (1972-77/2010)

Great Movements from all Nine Symphonies Celebrating Mahler’s 150th Birthday
Performers: Vienna Philharmonic (one with London Symphony)/Vienna Choirs/Soloists/Leonard Bernstein
Studio: DGG/Universal 00440 073 4589
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German, French, Spanish, Chinese
No region code
Length: 128 minutes
Rating: *****

If you don’t have the nine-DVD DGG set of Bernstein conducting all nine Mahler Symphonies, this is a fine substitute.  When the videos first came out in the 1970s, Gramophone said “With Bernstein, Mahler must be seen as well as heard.”  The visual portion – though still 4:3 aspect ratio – has been processed using the latest digital facilities, and the original stereo tracks have been enhanced for DTS surround using the AMSI II Mastering ambient surround imaging technology, which extracts the center and surround channels from the difference information of the stereo tracks. This process of Emil Berliner Studios in Germany is quite successful, and the surrounds carry a higher level than I’ve heard from other pseudo-surround processes like this one. But as usual (except for lossless DTS-HD MA) the PCM Stereo option is a bit clearer sounding.

The order of the movements follows right thru the nine symphonies, from 1 to 9. Movements involving vocal soloists and chorus have been selected from the Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 and 8.  From the latter they of course chose the impressive opening hymn, “Veni, creator spiritus,” and this is a most enthusiastic performance. Especially on Bernstein’s part, who actually leaves the podium at least twice – jumping up into the air!  That’s something you don’t get listening to the CDs! The program ends with the moving Adagio movement of the Ninth. Director Humphrey Burton did a fine job in covering the performances visually, sometimes focusing closely on Bernstein’s facial expressions. And rightly so, since Bernstein was the most fascinating conductor to watch, ever.

These videos were all made during live concert performances, which was quite a challenge for all concerned. I don’t know if the DGG CD set of the symphonies uses the same audio; it was probably separately recorded. Many feel both Bernstein European Mahler symphony series are generally slower and less exciting than the earlier series he did in the U.S. for Columbia Records.  But these videos are white-hot with Bernstein’s no-holds-barred energetic effort to make them uniquely his own.  After all, he was almost solely responsible for bringing Mahler into the public consciousness.

 — John Sunier  

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