Leonard Bernstein conducts BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor

by | Dec 5, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Leonard Bernstein conducts BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor

With the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded live 1990
Director: Humphrey Burton
Studio: Unitel/EuroArts 2072018
Video: 4:3, color
No region code
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM stereo
Length: 74 minutes
Rating: *****

It was quite a step for Bernstein when he signed with Unitel and began to conduct more than 100 selections for them in Europe until his death. Now that classical music videos on DVD have proven to be a moneymaker, many of these are being gradually released. Bernstein did not feel as comfortable with Bruckner’s music as he did with Mahler – whose spiritual/psychological nature was much closer to the conductor than was Bruckner’s simple unquestioning religious fervor. He only conducted and recording Bruckner’s Sixth and Ninth.

Bernstein’s health was already failing at this time but he rallied for a tremendously moving statement of Bruckner’s climactic symphony. Whether the emotional depths touching on the impending end of life being probed with the work are referring to Bruckner’s life or Bernstein’s is unknown. The director gives us a variety of long shots of the orchestra as well as super closeups, but the primary image is of Bernstein in closeup – often viewed from somewhat below and very close to the middle of the orchestra. The range of his facial expressions is wide and never seems overdone for effect.  He is clearly being transported by the powerful musical structure he is building.  What a contrast with the videos of stone-faced conductors such as Karajan and Haitink!

The Vienna Philharmonic players are of course exceptional in accuracy and phrasing.  The brass section especially acquits itself handsomely. The impressively ornamental hall of the Musikvereinsaal with its huge gilt statues provides a superb background for the concert, and the added impact of either the DTS mix or the PCM stereo option makes this a sonic experience that supports the visuals without any apologies.  Adding the surround field immerses one in the hall and brings you closer to what the audience was experiencing. Some of the steadily-repeated blocks of chords ascend at higher and higher levels with each repeat and you think it cannot go up one more notch – yet it does. That’s Bruckner for you. Yet there is no annoying opaque quality creeping in as the volume level rises, as with some Dolby tracks. The 4:3 image expands successfully to 16:9 with the “stretch” options available on both my present displays. The final applause seems to go on forever, with repeated returns to the podium by Bernstein. This is an altogether magnificent musical testament!

 – John Sunier

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