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CD Review

Virtuoso Bernstein

Orchestre National de France/Leonard Bernstein
Deutsche Grammophon Virtuoso 4786971
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Classic in every way, these late Bernstein performances have long been among the great conductor's most personal, yet musically satisfying efforts. They've been coupled together before, on the Masters mid-price line. As an entry in a series supposedly geared toward beginners, this makes an unexpectedly bold release, and I really like it.

Housekeeping aside, both symphonies were recorded by Bernstein on CBS/Columbia early in his career. They are both perfectly acceptable renditions, and the Franck even comes (on the earlier disc) with some truly surprising couplings. The earlier Roussel was last seen on Sony's well-meant Masterworks line, and also holds interest for the unusual pairings. All this is a very long way of saying that these earlier efforts are good, great in places, but hard to find and very expensive in places. Conversely, this disc costs less than lunch at a chain restaurant, and the accounts are superb.

Both symphonies are wonderful; a combination of sheer weight and personal conviction. Climaxes are explosive, and the French forces play with tremendous gusto. There are very fine versions of the Franck on the market, but there are fewer of the Roussel. The latter really is a benchmark recording, thrilling and totally engaging. Monteux on RCA probably holds the edge in the Franck; listeners coming to the piece for the first time could be a touch overwhelmed. But there is no denying that the conductor gets exactly what he wants, and that there are few who have followed him since 1982 with the ability to create this kind of sound. Speaking of the sound, it's "live" in the late Bernstein tradition and remains perfectly fine. Like I said earlier, I didn't expect this from DG on a budget line, but if you want two superlative readings in one place, grab it.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

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