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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
Magnificent performances of Brahms works
By Ricardo Bressan Pinheiro
I entirely agree with another reviewer that "these are passionate, probing performances", and "these are superb, moving performances". I had heard few Bernstein's performances of Brahms works, and I was genuinely surprised with this collection. Sure, tempos are broad compared to other conductors (Karajan's, for instance). However, all I can say is that the performances are so convincing that the tempos go almost unnoticed. On the other hand, the majesty that these performances confer to Brahms works is almost awesome! I already had the collection of DVD's with Beethoven's works recorded by Bernstein with the VPO, and it is one of my favorite collections, but this one of Brahms was ever more impressive! The playing of the VPO and the soloists is magnificent, it is as if they all felt that the collaboration with the great conductor was to be unforgettable... So I recommend it to all who love Brahms music. To sum it up, I am sorry that I could give just five stars to this collection, it deserves much more than that!
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful. See all 2 customer reviews...
Bernstein's lyrical, Romantic Brahms
By Michael Birman
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was an enigmatic composer, both in his person and in his music. His music often requires that we tease out its meaning from its motivic and compressed architecture. His life is similarly mysterious and difficult to define. What induces a man as classically handsome as Brahms to hide his features behind a massive patrician beard? Brahms was already the endpoint of the great Germanic musical tradition at the end of the 19th Century. He was the inheritor of a line that begins with Bach, through the Classicism of Haydn and Mozart, culminating in Beethoven, continuing through the Romantic era of Schubert, Mendelssohn and, especially for Brahms, Schumann. Thus, Brahms was a kind of post-modern composer, aware of his position, constantly referring to older styles of music. Part of his enigmatic style is due to this. His relationship with the Schumanns and his life long love for Clara also took its toll on his life. Brahms burnt most of his musical sketches and his letters and papers to insure that the mystery would continue.
Leonard Bernstein chose to record this collection containing most of Brahm's orchestral music with the Vienna Philharmonic because of their homogeneous sound. The musicians are similarly schooled and, most important, the majority of their instruments are uniquely handmade: many of them dating back to the era of Brahms. In a strange (but very real) way, this collection presents Brahms played on original instruments, performed in an historically informed fashion. You cannot fail to be impressed how right everything sounds. The strings all have a similar silky sheen. The horns sound restrained and warmer. The winds have a burnished tone; their effect more diffident, less forward. This is a Brahmsian orchestra, without question. Bernstein conducts in typically demonstrative fashion. His tempos are extremely broad (the First Symphony lasts 56 minutes, 12 minutes longer than von Karajan's DGG recording). He is expressive, always emphasizing Brahms' Romantic side. These are passionate, probing performances. Sometimes, Bernstein performs Brahms in these Symphonies as if Brahms were Mahler. It takes a little getting used to. Allegros occasionally sound more like andantes, or even adagios. But once the adjustment is made, the beauty of these performances become apparent and win you over.
All of the performers are splendid. Krystian Zimerman, in the Piano Concertos, has a feathery touch capable of powerful outbursts that are stunning in their emotional Range. Gidon Kremer in the Violin Concerto and Double Concerto (with Mischa Maisky) subsumes his usual analytical style and partakes of Bernstein's Romantic persona, producing splendidly expressive performances with long legato lines emphasizing the vocal, song-like Brahms. These recordings made in the early 1980's have staying power. They were originally released on CD by DGG two decades ago. It is wonderful to be able to see them. The video is now digitally clear, free from artifacts, well filmed by Humphrey Burton. Sound in both PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 is exemplary, just slightly thinner than today's sound. Total Time of the 5 DVDs is 529 minutes.
These are superb and moving performances of a great composer. A life affirming release in every respect. Most strongly recommended.