Notes and Editorial Reviews
A marvellously convincing performance that in its uninhibited way blows any cobwebs off one's impressions of this romantic masterpiece. Under Bernstein there is never boredom: only freshness and much excitement.
Slick, you may say from our side of the Atlantic, in a tone of old-world smugness, but what a lot there is to be said in a highpowered and quirky romantic symphony for the Bernstein touch and unlimited rehearsal time. After all Bernstein has something of the musical Byron about him, and Liszt himself was hardly a paragon of refinement.
Bernstein's is a marvellously convincing performance that in its uninhibited way blows any cobwebs off one's impressions of this romantic masterpiece. Under
Bernstein there is never boredom: only freshness and much excitement. But that said one does have to tackle the inevitable question: how does Bernstein compare with Beecham ? Most of my detailed comparisons reveal exactly the contrast one would expect. In the grand enunciations of Faust's martial theme in the first movement Beecham has more swagger and panache : by comparison Bernstein seems to be driving too hard. In the delicate little passage near the beginning of the second movement where Gretchen counts the petals ("He loves me, he loves me not"), Bernstein sounds perfect until you hear Beecham. Beecham with his daring but controlled rubato conveys so much more the tentativeness, the expectancy of joy, and it is the same through much of that slow movement. The second subject, marked dolce amoroso, is so very tender in Beecham's hands, that Bernstein's idea of amoroso sounds comparatively extrovert afterwards. The latter's account of the Mephistophelian finale opens with more diabolical drive, but Beecham conveys more clearly that the first bars are a mere introduction (he comes closer to observing the instruction ironico) and when the gallumphing scherzando distortions of the Faust themes appear the Beecham panache again triumphs.
All of which suggests a clear preference in Beecham's favour, and there is no doubt that anyone who has grown to love the Beecham performance should remain with him. But Bernstein's freshness and directness have a cumulative effect whatever the detailed comparisons, and the choral ending is more expansive than with Beecham. Particularly if one does not trouble too much about what Bernstein did at a particular bar, it is a hair-raising experience he provides, and the recording, very reverberant but brilliant as well, is recognizably more modern than the Beecham. The coupling too may have an influence on choice, though for my money I find Orpheus more interesting than Les Preludes every time. Although listed I have left the DGG issue out of the comparisons: neither playing nor recording come anywhere near the other two.
One final comparison between Beecham and Bernstein: at the very opening when violas and 'cellos enunciate Faust's mystic theme (ranging over all twelve notes of the scale as Stuckenschmidt has pointed out) Beecham conveys a sense of reverie. This is Faust the philosopher, where Bernstein's reading conveys less of mysticism and magic than a confident magician after the manner of Dukas. But to go to the same theme when it returns after the development: there curiously the contrast is quite different. After the frenzy of the development Beecham somehow fails to relax completely, where Bernstein's extra tautness in the preceding argument allows a deeper sense of calm in the return to the home idea. But then when in the finale that same theme is hinted at, pizzicato over mysterious muted horns, it is Beecham who again shows a clear supremacy. It is a marvellous work whichever version you choose.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [reviewing the original LP release]
Works on This Recording
Faust Symphony, S 108 by Franz Liszt
Charles Bressler (Tenor)
Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia,
New York Philharmonic
Written: 1854-1857; Weimar, Germany
Date of Recording: 11/07/1960
Venue: Manhattan Center, New York City
Length: 72 Minutes 9 Secs.
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