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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Even Leonard Bernstein rarely made a recoding quite as historic as this, here vividly presented in a television relay seen in 20 countries. At Christmas 1989, just after the Berlin Wall came down, Bernstein devised this unique performance of Beethoven’s Ninth in celebration, drawing not just on the Bavarian RSO but on members of orchestras from Russia, Britain, France and the USA, as well as choirs from East and West German. Reflecting what has just happened he replaced the word ‘Freude’, ‘Joy’, in the Schiller ode set in the choral finale with the word ‘Freiheit’, ‘Freedom’, a sentiment which Bernstein thought was originally in Beethoven’s mind. The result is a performance of unique tensions, with speeds broader than have become the rule latterly, and with the great Adagio as slow as on any version, wonderfully sustained. The finale, with four excellent soloists, crowns the occasion, received rapturously by the newly united citizens of East and West Germany.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, August 2006

This is a recording of the gala performance that took place in the Schauspielhaus of (former East) Berlin a few days after the wall came down. Members of five great orchestras - German, American, British, French, and Russian - representing the former occupying powers - as well as a quartet of powerful (the soprano especially) soloists, plus several choirs, joined forces in this extravaganza, presided over by an obviously tired and aging Lenny. Gustav Mahler called his Eighth "A Symphony of a Thousand", and would have been delighted by this one. It was a sad sight to watch Bernstein in action. His tempi were slower than usual, and it was plainly evident that he was unable to convey the old energy and electricity that had always sparked his performances during his long career. Nevertheless, this is a moving, uplifting document, all the more so for his substitution of "Freiheit" (Freedom) for the original "Freude" - a typical Bernstein touch.






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4:48:50 PM, 31 October 2014
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