Bernstein: Schubert’s Great and Mozart’s Late

I think musicians shall be allowed to take liberties in their interpretations of works, even if they diverge from the score. This approach creates a diverse selection of readings and sometimes real gems.

One such interpretation is by Leonard Bernstein leading the New York Philharmonic in Schubert’s 9th symphony “the Great”. It starts off in a moderate tempo but by the end of the first movement one gets the sense that it’s building up to something great. And it surely is. The next two movements are rhythmically strong and top-notch entertaining but it’s the fourth movement that really stands out. From the first bar it’s so energetic, fast and over-the-top that I really can’t sit still. Bernstein perfectly captures the dance-like rhythms and uses them for what they’re worth.

Bernstein is not known for complying to traditions and another great over-the-top performance is his live take on Mozart’s last mass, the Requiem. He’s not at all modest and well-behaved like leading competitors Schreier and Marriner. With Bernstein and the Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks the slow movements are extra slow, with the Lacrimosa ticking in at just under 6 minutes—twice the usual length! And the fast movements are so dramatic they could have accompanied an opera where everybody dies in the end. These overdone slow and fast movements make an effectful contrast to each other.

I won’t say anymore than this; now you’ve got to listen to these gems yourself…but beware. After hearing B’s interpretation of the Requiem all other will sound way too fast in the slow movements, and vice versa with the last movement of Schubert’s Great. Now I look forward to getting my hands on B’s version of Mozart’s Grosse Messe, which I will get back to.

Note: Bernstein’s recordings of the Requiem and the Grosse Messe also exist as DVD-videos, but I haven’t seen them. Have you?

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