Bernstein is completely at ease talking to his audience. He can take the most abstruse subject - the meaning and function of intervals, tonality and atonality, the links between Gustav Mahler's troubled life and his music - and present them to a young audience with clarity, without condescension, and with a clear sense of the material's value. His subject-matter is enormously varied. For Igor Stravinsky's 80th birthday, he simply tells his audience the story of Petrouchka while conducting a dazzling performance of the colorful ballet. For a program on "Folk Music in the Concert Hall," he plays some of Canteloube's folk song arrangements and the boisterous finale of Ives's Symphony No. 2, full of borrowed pop and folk melodies. The influence of folk music is shown in folk song imitations by Mozart and Carlos Chavez.
The sound and images, taped over a 15-year span when the art of recording was rapidly advancing, are varied in quality; the series begins in black-and-white and ends in vivid color. Not all of the programs are equally compelling, but all are worth close and repeated attention. --Joe McLellan