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Posted February 4, 2014
I arrived at BU in the fall of 1966, and I still remember vividly hearing the sound of the Third rehearsal through closed doors of Symphony Hall as I was buying my cheap ticket to the matinee performance, which far surpassed all expectations. At the end of the exquisite closing adagio, the halls was resonant with a shared feeling of wisdom and reverence - and yes, love (Mahler titled the movement 'what love tells me').
Even more unforgettable was a live performance of the First, coming the same week LBJ announced he was quitting the Presidency and ML King died, and I was in a deep quandary about whether to join the draft resistance movement, handing in my draft card and facing a possible five years in prison. All through the symphony I was trying to collect my thoughts, seeking some kind of guidance from the music.
Every other live performance and recording I've heard treats the conclusion of the finale as a heroic, triumphant extravaganza, a sort of ego-tripping vindication. Not Leinsdorf! For him, the bombast had a bitter, all-knowing alertness and awareness, the excessive effects tightly disciplined to become tragic fury.
I was not on drugs but experienced a terrifyingly vivid hallucination, with real human beings, a village full of women and children, on the receiving end of a relentless bombing. These were real explosions, ending the lives of real human beings before my eyes. This was not Hollywood or a video game; it was really happening as we sat there in the concert hall, because it was really happening in real life.
The hardest decision of my life was made easy for me by Leinsdorf and his orchestra; there was no choice. At the scheduled event on the Boston Common, a few days later, the draft card was gone.
A few years ago, I came across a long, deep interview with the conductor in his last year or two of life, and after reading his views and getting a sense of his character, I have no doubt at all that the message I received was exactly the message he was sending; at that crucial historical moment.
I eventually bought both recordings, made in the immediate aftermath of the concerts, but I didn't feel much need to listen to them. The live experiences are still echoing today. All others I've heard fall flat in comparison to the memory of live BSO.
The Sixth Leindorf recorded with the BSO seemed to me far better than the much-praised Bernstein record that came out right after it. Leinsdorf's relatively serene and restrained approach actually felt more intense than the superstar's supercharged "definitive" version.
Leinsdorf got a very raw deal in Boston, largely due to the consistently negative reviews by Michael Steinberg in the Globe, and Leinsdorf's Mahler seem to have been forgotten, overshadowed completely by the many (often justly) celebrated and much-discussed recordings of the past 45 years. He's not even an also-ran in the reviewers' Mahler discographies. He's had no music industry hype since RCA's half-hearted promos in the sixties, wasn't charismatic enough to attract an enthusiastic mass audience, and wasn't peculiar of colorful enough to ever be a posthumous cult figure.
But his intelligence, integrity, and insight should have earned him a lasting place in the pantheon. He truly changed my life, and I'm sure, especially after reading that long interview, that it wasn't just because our paths happened to cross at that time and place.
Posted October 1, 2010
This is a fantastic cd-the third is particularly spectacular. I have to single out the sixth and second movements, which are in my book definitive readings (and I have both played the piece and heard many recordings). In the Adagio, there is always a sense of direction (although the tempo is not fast), and the orchestra puts out a gorgeously rich, but floating sound. There is a sense of dignity to the playing. In the second movement, the BSO strings make the music bloom. The sound quality is excellent- everything is clear, but it is not sterile-sounding; there is an nice atmosphere to the recording. I know it is more expensive than a regular cd, but it is no ordinary performance.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.