Leonard Bernstein: The 1953 American Decca Recordings Box set
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Audio CD, Box set, February 8, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
The performances are a revelation, because they demonstrate conclusively that Bernstein did not always "exaggerate" or "overinterpret" great music, as critics frequently claim. His performances here are very, very direct and straightforward, more like Fritz Reiner or Toscanini than like Bernstein.
If this album contained only Bernstein's early performances of these symphonies, it would be interesting, but it might not really attract that much attention, since he re-recorded all of these pieces in stereo in later years, and with the same orchestra.
What makes this set so valuable is that it contains his long out-of-print lectures on these symphonies, and far from what the previous reviewer claims, they never become boring and monotonous. No musician in our time, or maybe even in the history of music, was a better or more articulate and sensitive lecturer on music than Leonard Bernstein. His legendary appearances on the "Young People's Concerts" did more for the appreciation of classical music than all the "Beethoven's Wig" albums combined. (If you don't know what "Beethoven's Wig" is, check it out and shudder at how far music appreciation has fallen since Bernstein's death.Read more ›
Then there are the performances. I'm not the biggest fan of mono symphonic recordings, but these positively leap down your ears, unmannered, committed and electric. It's hard to believe what was achieved under the hasty recording conditions described in the booklet. The sound is a little fierce, but good enough to make this set a wonderful gift for any open-minded but symphonically ignorant acquaintance. I can easily imagine it turning someone on to classical music.
I think that is a fair summation of these performances. These are lively, well-shaped performances, with that Bernstein knack for conveying a sense of drama and destination. However, would you take this performance of the "Eroica" to a desert island instead of, say, Klemperer, or Szell? Would you choose this Brahms No. 4 over Walter? The Tchaikovsky over Mravinsky, or Karajan? Bernstein had an affinity for Schumann, and even with the relatively limited audio this Symphony No. 2 could be packed for that figurative desert island (Lenny's DG recording sounds much better, and has some further interpretive touches). These are very good performances done under less-than-ideal conditions (Bernstein then couldn't make the demands for either rehearsal time or recording time that he later did).
Were it not for an extraordinary turn of events, these performances might have stood as a major part of Bernstein's recorded legacy. So this set raises a question in this listener's mind about Fate and What Might Have Been. What would classical music history have been if Guido Cantelli had not died suddenly in 1956?
The twenty years since Arturo Toscanini had departed the New York Philharmonic to head the orchestra created for him - the NBC Symphony - was a wavy time for the Philharmonic: three Music Directors and some interim arrangements (Bruno Walter was "musical adviser" for a while; Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulos were co-Principal Conductors).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
From San Francisco:
These symphonic readings have a smartness and directness that Bernstein would lose when he had become incurably infatuated with himself. Read more
This is an invaluable set for Bernstein fans. Along with these early recordings you get his interesting analysis of each work. Read morePublished on November 25, 2007 by Martin R. Lash