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Leonard Bernstein: The 1953 American Decca Recordings Box set

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Bernstein was just 35 when he made his first recordings of five classics from the symphonic repertoire for Decca. Now, those legendary 1953 recordings are on CD for the first time: Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major "Eroica" Beethoven; Symphony No. 4 Brahms; Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique" Tchaikovsky; Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World" Dvorak, and Symphony No. 2 in C Major Schumann. And joining them (also new to CD) are the fascinating audio listening guides that Bernstein recorded to accompany these in 1957

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Eroica'), Op. 55: 1. Allegro con brio
  2. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Eroica'), Op. 55: 2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
  3. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Eroica'), Op. 55: 3. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
  4. Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ('Eroica'), Op. 55: 4. Finale. Adagio - Allegro molto e vivace
  5. Simplicity itself (Musical Analysis of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 by Leonard Bernstein)
  6. I always feel this gigantism... (Musical Analysis of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 by Leonard Bernstein)
  7. We have just been examining... (Musical Analysis of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 by Leonard Bernstein)

Disc: 2

  1. All that we have said... Finale (Musical Analysis of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 by Leonard Bernstein)
  2. The study of the Eroica is a lifetime work - Symphony No. 3 (Musical Analysis of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 by Leonard Bernstein)
  3. Symphony No. 9 in E minor ('From the New World'), B. 178 (Op. 95) (first published as No. 5): 1. Adagio - Allegro molto
  4. Symphony No. 9 in E minor ('From the New World'), B. 178 (Op. 95) (first published as No. 5): 2. Largo
  5. Symphony No. 9 in E minor ('From the New World'), B. 178 (Op. 95) (first published as No. 5): 3. Scherzo: Molto vivace
  6. Symphony No. 9 in E minor ('From the New World'), B. 178 (Op. 95) (first published as No. 5): 4. Allegro con fuoco

Disc: 3

  1. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
  2. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 3. Adagio espressivo
  3. Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61: 4. Allegro molto vivace
  4. Robert Schumann has been dead... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  5. To my mind, Schumann follows in this tradition... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  6. Now let's look at the Symphony itself (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  7. And so we have arrived... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  8. In the marvelous Scherzo that follows... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  9. But perhaps the greatest beauty... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)
  10. Even in the final movement... (Musical Analysis of Schumann's Symphony No. 2 by Leonard Bernstein)

Disc: 4

  1. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98: 1. Allegro non troppo
  2. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98: 2. Andante moderato
  3. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98: 3. Allegro giocoso - Poco meno presto - Tempo 1
  4. Brahms' Fourth Symphony in E minor... (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  5. Our journey begins without introduction (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  6. Do you see now what a symphonic theme is? (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  7. Now think of it - we have so far only had 44 bars of music (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  8. Here is that second theme (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  9. This brings us to the development section proper (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  10. And here we are back home (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  11. So we arrive at the coda (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)
  12. Well, we have had a microscopic view (Musical Analysis of Brahm's Symphony No. 4 by Leonard Bernstein)

Disc: 5

  1. Now there is a melody (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)
  2. Now the development section erupts (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)
  3. Now one would think... (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)
  4. Jumping now to the famous third movement (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)
  5. Perhaps the most admirable example... (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)
  6. Now I don't want to give you the impression... (Musical Analysis of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 by Leonard Bernstein)


Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 8, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B00067GKF6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,690 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This new album set is something that I had heard of, but never dared to hope would be released on CD. It consists of Leonard Bernstein's very first recordings of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 (the "Eroica"), Dvorak's "New World Symphony", Schumann's Symphony No. 2, Brahms' Fourth Symphony, and Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony. They are all conducted by Bernstein and played beautifully by an orchestra which bills itself as the New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra, but which is really the great New York Philharmonic, using the name that they gave themselves during summer concerts.

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.
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The most recent batch of DG's "Original Masters" box sets boasts several titles that will leave classical collectors rejoicing, "Leonard Bernstein: The 1953 American Decca Recordings" foremost among them. This 5CD set features Lenny in his earliest recorded performances of some of his trademark works -- Beethoven's 3rd, Dvorak's 9th, Schumann's 2nd, Brahms' 4th and Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphonies. Bernstein would later re-record all of five these symphonies with the NYPO (btw, the Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York IS the NYPO) to greater acclaim for Columbia, but these early accounts capture a brilliant young conductor at the threshold of greatness. Also after each performance, Bernstein offers a musical analysis, simplifying what the listener just heard as only he could, which is again something the conductor would become famous for in years to come. Well then, if this is such a great set, why the four-star rating? First, while the performances sound very good, these are 1953 mono recordings and the casual fan needs to be aware that analog and digital stereo recordings of these works by the conductor do exist, and are generally preferable. Second, the musical analysis is a nice touch, but certainly does not warrant repeated listenings, as does the music. In fact, nearly half of the contents of these five discs is LB talking, and it could have been filled with music instead, or simply sold as a less expensive 3CD set. However, these shortcomings aside, "Leonard Bernstein: The 1953 American Decca Recordings" is another outstanding release in a fine series.
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A member of the New York Philharmonic is quoted in Joan Peyser's biography of Leonard Bernstein to the effect that Bernstein really shone in his conducting of twentieth-century music, adding that "The rest was always better than all right."

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).
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