Music and Vision homepage Cadenza Programme Note Library - Programme Notes by Mike Wheeler

 

CD Spotlight

MONUMENTAL ACHIEVEMENTS

-------------------------------

'... stunningly committed performances ...'

Some thoughts on Bernstein's recordings of the Mahler symphonies -
by DAVID WILKINS

 

I don't see this as an opportunity to rehearse details of the oft told tale of all the similarities between Gustav Mahler and Leonard Bernstein. In summary, then : the conflict between composing and conducting; the Jewishness and sundry other bits of prejudice; Vienna and New York as significant centres of influence and intrigue; overwork and self-neglect as contributions to an early death. All of that, and more, is easily available from other sources.

DG Bernstein/Mahler II, Rückert Songs and the Middle Trilogy - Symphonies 5-6-7

What does spring to mind, though, is one of my favourite Bernstein stories. It's buried deep in Ned Rorem's published diaries and goes something like this : -- Both musicians, not unfamiliarly well into their cups in a late-night loft session somewhere. Lenny sprawls on a couch, cigarette and scotch close to hand, while Rorem plays through some obscure songs by Paul Bowles. Something stirs the Bernstein synapses. 'Gee, Ned,' he asks without the merest hint of camp or disingenuousness, 'that's so wonderful! Remind me : I just can't remember. When did I write that?'

The idea of the great performer as surrogate creator is a bit of a, 'How can we know the dancer from the dance?' red-herring and an easy critical cliché. When it comes to Bernstein's Mahler, however, I believe we simply have to lay scepticism aside and accept that some degree of spooky identification came into play. For better and worse (I'm no gushing apologist here -- it was, sometimes, for worse), this conductor -- for the duration of a performance -- might genuinely have felt that he was as much writer as realiser of the music before him. A nervous laugh for the absurdity of the idea, a knowing and sophisticated shrug for the famed egotism but, I suspect, the likelihood of a spine-chill or two at the sheer persuasiveness of the results.

Continue >>

Copyright © 25 August 2001 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK

 

-------

CD INFORMATION - SONY SX12K 89499

PURCHASE THE SONY SET FROM CROTCHET

PURCHASE THE SONY SET FROM AMAZON

CD INFORMATION - DG 459 080-2

PURCHASE THE DG SET FROM AMAZON

 

 << Music & Vision home      Recent reviews       Poulenc >>

Download a free realplayer 

For help listening to the sound extracts here,
please refer to our questions & answers page.