<< -- 4 -- David Wilkins LEONARD BERNSTEIN 1918 - 1990
The other new DG issue raises a number of tantalizing questions. It's
called 'Lenny / Leonard Bernstein -- The Legend Lives On' (DG
469 460-2 : 6 discs). Given the wealth of recordings that Bernstein made
for DG after leaving CBS (nowadays Sony, of course), you do have to wonder
who chose these particular performances to best represent his recorded legacy
and on what basis. I believe that there are two discs here that no music-lover
should want to be without, two more that Bernstein 'completists'
would consider to be essential to their collection and an additional pair
that are interesting in their own way but fall considerably short of library
recommendations for the works in question.
The two indispensable items are a disc of American music and a truly
stunning performance of Mahler's 5th symphony which has long been considered
a top recommendation. With the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bernstein gives
a considerably freer (and slower) performance of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody
in Blue' than he did with the NYPO in 1959 but it still overflows with
sparkle and unmistakable affection. The performance of Copland's 'Appalachian
Spring' digs deep into the lyrical heart of this beguiling work and
that of the Barber Adagio is an object lesson of sustained emotional power.
The 3rd Symphony of Roy Harris (something of a Bernstein calling-card) could
not find a more dedicated advocate for its 18 minutes of striving nobility.
The Mahler performance, with the Vienna Philharmonic, was recorded live
(as became the habit in the latter part of his career) and is, indisputably,
I believe, one of the greatest pieces of music-making ever committed to
disc. Although Bernstein might have over-egged the cake in his claims for
almost single-handedly effecting the Mahler revival, there is no doubt that
his particular identification with this composer produced many of the finest
of his conducting achievements. The 5th Symphony was a particular favourite
(his score of the work was buried with him) and he and the illustrious orchestra
with which he established a rapport of unlikely magic are on cracking form.
The fiery, anguished neurosis, the death-obsessed languor, the near-unbearable
nostalgia, the triumphant defiance -- all the characteristics of this music
seem to find an ideal counterpart in the conductor's own psyche.
Elsewhere, the Mozart C minor 'Mass' receives a weighty performance
of currently unfashionable virtues. Bernstein was always closer to the more
generous spirit of Haydn and recorded surprisingly little Mozart. Included
in this set, however, is a previously unreleased performance of the G Major
Piano Concerto (K. 453) where he directs the VPO from the keyboard. It is
not at all self-indulgent in any of the ways that you might expect. In fact
it is always stylish, well-considered and, in the Figaroesque finale, delightfully
witty. It is definitely one that the 'completists' among us will
be very glad to have access to at last. The other disc in that category
is 'The Final Concert' -- recorded with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
in his beloved Tanglewood just a couple of months before his death. A riveting
performance of the Britten 'Sea Interludes' reveals how much he
admired the music of this one-time acquaintance whose problems were, in
some ways, so similar to his own but whose character was so very different.
It is coupled with a granite-like, almost Klempererish Beethoven 7th Symphony
with an Allegretto of tangible valediction.
Copyright © 31 October 2000
David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK
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