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Thread: Essential Recordings with Leonard Bernstein as Conductor

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    Quote Originally Posted by Olias View Post
    Haydn is one of my very favorites, and I have both the CD and DVD of LB doing 88, 92, and 94 with Vienna which I love. I've got his London Symphonies on Sony which I really like EXCEPT the minuet movements are too slow for my taste. It's a minor quibble. HOWEVER, I just found The Bernstein Century CD of the Paris Symphonies with NYPO and they are fantastic.
    The Paris symphonies are a bit string heavy for my taste but I also find them much better than the uneven London set (and also better than the late Vienna disc) and they are my favorite non-HIP recording, I guess.
    There is also an older recording of #88 but this is hard to find, mainly/only as filler for a Haydn mass, I think. The 3? Haydn masses and Creation Bernstein did with NYPO forces are also a bit rough in spots but committed and exciting.

    I think Allegro con brio is a bit harsh on the later DG (mostly Vienna) recordings. They are not as consistent and some are self indulgent or just very slow but the sound is usually better than the Sony/CBS and many are at least worth trying out. The Schumann symphonies have been mentioned, the Brahms concertos (Zimerman and Kremer) are also very good and while I prefer the earlier Beethoven, the Vienna Beethoven is not without interest. (Most/all of these were also on Video/Laserdisc.) I also cannot escape some nostalgia because among my earliest encounters with both Beethoven and Mahler were these Bernstein concerts on German TV in the late 1980s)

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    Mendelssohn: Ruy Blas Overture:


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    Let's not forget the great recordings for which he conducted his own music, including:





    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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    I agree with the OP that, as a conductor, Bernstein was either very good, or bad, and seldom anywhere in between (& I've said the same thing myself on these threads before!). I also find that his earlier Columbia (& EMI) recordings are often better conducted than his sometimes slack and less precise & less riveting later DG recordings.

    1. First & foremost, I'd strongly recommend Bernstein's Beethoven Eroica, and specifically the earlier New York Philharmonic performance on Columbia/Sony, which is preferable to his later, less tightly conducted & less dynamic digital recording in Vienna on DG, IMO. This is a symphony that is notoriously difficult to conduct well & get right!, with its massive first movement that has been known to occasionally cause conductors to lose their way in concert. Bernstein was more than up to the challenge. In fact, he was kind of obsessed with the Eroica. Of the many conductors that I've heard in the 3rd, three have stood out to me: They are Bernstein/New York, Scherchen/Vienna (two times), and van Kempen/Berlin. Indeed Bernstein had a very special affinity for the 3rd, & gave an unusually thoughtful & insightful reading for Columbia, which shouldn't be missed!--by either Beethoven or Bernstein fans:



    2. Secondly, I fully agree with others here that Bernstein's Haydn is extra special. But again, I'd generally opt for his earlier Haydn in New York on Columbia/Sony over the later Philips and DG recordings, where the conducting can, at times, be less precise, in comparison (& even a bit sloppy, such as on his live Haydn Mass for Philips). The Haydn box set that was issued by Sony is essential Bernstein, IMO, and should be in any good non-period Haydn collection (along with Sir Colin Davis's recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips--which compliment Bernstein's well, and a selection of performances by several period conductors, too, such as Sigiswald Kuijken, Frans Bruggen, Christopher Hogwood, Nicholas McGegan, etc.).

    Here's the Haydn box set that I'd most recommend (but unfortunately, it appears to have become a bit pricey compared to what I paid, so it may be OOP): https://www.amazon.com/Haydn-London-...s=music&sr=1-4

    Here's another release, which isn't as comprehensive, and I've not heard it, so I can't say if the sound has been compressed or not (which is often a complaint with this discount Sony series): https://www.amazon.com/Leonard-Berns...s=music&sr=1-2

    3. Mahler Symphony No. 7 "Song of the Night". Mahler's 7th was another work that Bernstein had a special affinity for, & again, the earlier 1965 New York Columbia performance slightly gets the nod over the later DG remake, IMO, as it is one of Bernstein's great Mahler recordings, but both are good:

    Sony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeZr...EUxF0&index=32
    DG: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSNu5Zh8wOE

    4. Mahler Symphony No. 2--IMO, Bernstein's live performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in Ely Cathedral (with sopranos Sheila Armstrong and a young Janet Baker--who make a dream team!) is the best of Bernstein's three Mahler 2nds. Even if the sound quality is less than ideal. But it's not terrible, either, & can be best heard on DVD, IMO:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPPjBhlU2kk
    https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Sympho...7296917&sr=8-1
    https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Sympho...7298919&sr=8-3
    https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Sympho...7298919&sr=8-4

    5. Mahler Symphony No. 3--Here again, the earlier New York Columbia recording gets the nod over Bernstein's DG remake, IMO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NumM...OaHJKSFsQQH1ND.

    (I'd also recommend Bernstein's Sony & DG recordings of Mahler's 6th, as well as his Sony recording of Mahler's 9th, but not the overrated live Berlin 9th, or the other DG 9th in Amsterdam. The best remasters of Bernstein's Columbia Mahler recordings come in the following box set, where the remasters are based on the DSD Japanese Hybrid SACDs, which have excellent sound, too: btw, this is the other Bernstein box set that I would strongly recommend--in addition to the Sony Haydn box set: https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Comple...s=music&sr=1-1 )

    6. Berlioz, Harold in Italy, with violist Donald McInnes, and the Orchestre de National France, on EMI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6oHWQ6hZdc. In addition, while it may not be one of my top two or three choices, Bernstein also made a fine recording of the Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique with the same orchestra. Both performances are available in a recommendable EMI double fforte, 2 for 1 discount issue: https://www.amazon.com/Berlioz-Symph...294936&sr=8-12.

    7. R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, Vienna Philharmonic, on Sony:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dcH...ojMnBg5fuHemo5
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T3RN_mmcV4
    https://www.amazon.com/Strauss-Rosen...7295296&sr=8-1

    8. Nielsen, Symphony Nos. 3 & 5, Sony. Again, Bernstein had a special affinity for the symphonies of Nielsen & I wish he'd given us a complete cycle, but alas, that didn't happen (Sony did, however, combine Bernstein's Nielsen with Ormandy's to make a box set cycle). The 3rd was recorded with the Royal Danish Orchestra, and the 5th with the New York Philharmonic. Both recordings derive from the 1960s and shouldn't be missed by Nielsen fans, and the 5th is a must hear for Bernstein fans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUf67ycFhsU

    9. Bernstein was especially devoted to conducting the works of American composers that were, more or less, mostly his contemporaries, such as Aaron Copland, William Schumann, Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici, Samuel Barber, Elliot Carter, Lukas Foss, Charles Ives, Roy Harris, George Gershwin, etc. Though in regards to Bernstein's recordings of the music of Barber, I personally prefer the American conductor Thomas Schippers (among analogue recordings of Barber's Adagio for Strings, for instance), and from the digital era, Leonard Slatkin in St. Louis (among recordings of the Adagio for Strings, as well as the Slatkin/Oliveira recording of Barber's Violin Concerto over the earlier 1964 Bernstein/Stern recording--but more due to Stern's violin playing, which I don't overly like, in comparison to Oliveira's, which is way, way better, than due to Bernstein's conducting, which is first rate).

    Again, among Bernstein's various recordings of works by American composers, the earlier Columbia recordings tend to be better, at least when he recorded a work twice (such as was the case in certain works by Ives, Harris, Schuman, etc.). But the DG recordings of Copland's 3rd Symphony & Quiet City and the symphonies by Harris & Schuman are 'must hears', too, and overall, the later DG box entitled "The Americans" set makes a good buy.

    --If I had to pick one Bernstein recording of works by an American composer for this post, I'd choose his Columbia/Sony recording of William Schuman's Symphonies Nos. 3, 5, & 8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTxc...AZVSqMVfaSYssM.

    10. Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 5, with pianist Rudolf Serkin, who, at his best, was one of the great Beethoven pianists that I've heard in my life. I also treasure Serkin's live mid-1970s Beethoven PC 1-5 set with conductor Rafael Kubelik on Orfeo, which is extra special, too, and may be even preferable, despite that Serkin was more in his prime with Bernstein. By the way, Bernstein also recorded Beethoven's Choral Fantasia with Serkin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S9TFdp51wo.

    --Beethoven PC 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmBGMybuRJI
    --Beethoven PC 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG0Qwa1Ee10

    So, those are my top ten Bernstein recordings. In addition, here are five more Bernstein recordings that I wouldn't want to be without:

    11. Brahms, Academic Festival Overture, Vienna Philharmonic, DG. While I have mixed feelings about Bernstein's later DG Brahms in Vienna, this is one of my favorite recordings of the Academic Festival Overture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nWIecrO_bE. The only question is, is it better than his earlier Columbia recording? (it is certainly better sound-wise): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSgZCFS3vHY

    12. Mahler, Kindertotenlieder, Dame Janet Baker, Israel Philharmonic (Baker made another wonderful recording of this song cycle, as well as the other two mature Mahler song cycles, with Sir John Barbirolli, on EMI, & that one is a desert island disc in my collection):

    Bernstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF2jVCpiZLw
    Barbirolli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa2UUF6SFII

    13. Ives: The Unanswered Question: Holidays, Central Park in the Dark/Carter: Concerto for Orchestra, 1969, New York Philharmonic, Columbia/Sony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXD4tIp59L0

    https://www.amazon.com/Ives-Unanswer...s=music&sr=1-1

    14. Stravinsky, the opera, Le chant du Rossingnol, or The Song of the Nightingale (underrated Stravinsky, IMO):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7GWKLIsqGM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TotKe9IgDC4

    15: Beethoven Symphony No. 7: New York Philharmonic, Columbia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rw-KtQLdRT4

    Plus, all of the recordings that Bernstein made of his own music (though I wouldn't overly recommend his DG West Side Story, which, for me, tends to be too operatically sung for an American musical)...

    If I were to continue with my list from here, my focus would be on Bernstein's Shostakovich, Hindemith, Sibelius, & Bartok, and more Stravinsky...
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jul-26-2021 at 22:39.

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    There are so many!!
    The aforementioned Shostakovich 7 & 1 with CSO, #5 with NYPO ['59]
    His Sibelius symphony set is top of the heap - #5 is esp great....all topnotch, the whole set is terrific...

    Stravinsky - Rite of Spring - NYPO '58
    Firebird Suite NYPO '57
    Hindemith - Sym in Eb, Sym Metamorphosis, Konzert Music Brass/Strgs [NYPO

    His recordings of American music are classics -

    Copland, Schuman [original #3 ' is a terrific effort, along with Slatkin/CSO, top drawer for this amazing blockbuster],
    Diamond, Piston, Bernstein, etc...Lenny always got into the basic rhythm of American works - whether it's the folksy underlying basis, or the jazzy, swinging style that runs thru so much of the music...always very lively and boisterous....
    Schumann Syms 3,4 [NYPO]
    Haydn - Paris, London Syms [NYPO]
    Nielsen - Syms 5 [NYPO] and 3 [Royal Danish Orch]
    Bizet - Carmen suites
    Mahler - Sym #7 I ['65 NYPO] Sym #3 II ['87 NYPO]

    So many, I'm sure I left out a few....
    Last edited by Heck148; Jul-26-2021 at 23:00.

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    Josquin13: (your 16:56 post) - Pretty comprehensive, and thanks! One might ADD to recommendation #8 - Nielsen - in the Symphonies 2 and 4. One can find his LP of both from discogs.com, beginning at $3.00. Also, his version of Nielsen's 5th is VERY fine, but the Horenstein version might be even better, overall, IMO. ... Also, in recommendation #5 - Mahler - I agree about his later versions of the 9th ... and, believe it or not, Herbert von Karajan had two, MASTERFUL recordings of that one ... but I have an open-reel tape of Leonard, in the Mahler 8th. It's somewhat grand, but not grandiose, and is worthy of consideration with his other Mahler recordings.

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    My absolute favorites which aren't his Mahler cycle-

    Columbia - Stravinsky / Rite of Spring (Still the one for me. I want this to sound insane and thrilling- and it's hard to beat that NY
    Columbia - Berlioz - Requiem (my absolute favorite Berlioz requiem - more exciting than Munch's, and a better soloist than the Colin Davis one in Dresden)
    Columbia - Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique/Harold in Italy - he really was a fabulous Berliozian, though not so much for the French rep in general
    Most stuff he did for Americans - Ives, Copland, Barber, Gershwin, excluding the cut Rhapsody in Blue (which sold like 60 bazillion copies)


    So much of what he did that wasn't the standard German rep (I've never warmed to his Beethoven), apart from Haydn- was excellent. Also as for Bartok - I prefer Boulez's later recordings for the NYPO, though Bernstein's is very good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Another vote for the Nielsen 5th Symphony.
    That's a good 'un! Also the Rite Of Spring, Mahler 9, his own symphonies, On The Waterfront, Candide, Serenade. And Haydn.
    Last edited by starthrower; Jul-28-2021 at 23:33.
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    Probably not available anywhere, but his early '60s Brahms Second with NYPO was terrific performance hampered by laughably bad recording acoustic of then new, legendarily awful Philharmonic Hall.
    Last edited by MarkW; Jul-29-2021 at 04:14.

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    fbjim: (your 16:55) - Very good! ... although one might recommend "better" than Bernstein, in that extraordinary work - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring - maybe the "young lion" of his time/Monteux, in 1929, with a Paris Orchestra (Pristine Classical reissue). ... Also, in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique ... there again, was a Monteux recording, in it's headlong decisiveness, probably better than any, since. As for Berlioz, and Harold in Italy, there's a Toscanini version ... yes, it's the "old man", and the constricted acoustics of his old, recording venues (with Carlton Cooley, I think), that might be better. ... Agree, though, as am sure many, others would ... about what he could DO with Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Wm. Schuman, Gershwin, and so many others!!
    Last edited by 89Koechel; Jul-29-2021 at 06:36. Reason: grammar

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkW View Post
    Probably not available anywhere, but his early '60s Brahms Second with NYPO was terrific performance hampered by laughably bad recording acoustic of then new, legendarily awful Philharmonic Hall.
    Yes, that Lenny/NYPO Brahms #2 from '62 is very excellent, one of the best....it sounds in many ways like the live Reiner/NYPO from 3/60....big, brawny, ballsy as hell....exciting.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by 89Koechel View Post
    ......Agree, though, as am sure many, others would ... about what he could DO with Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Wm. Schuman, Gershwin, and so many others!!
    yep, Lenny always seemed to have his thumb well-placed on the pulse, the rhythm, style of American music....whether the folksy, traditional style, or the more jazzy style, Bernstein was definitely wired in.....others are good, too, but Lenny is very consistent...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Forgot about the NY Bartok. Only Ivan Fischer beats ‘em among recordings I’ve heard.

    As you might guess, I much prefer the earlier, more brash and uninhibited Lenny than the self-conscious artifice and near-kitsch of some of his late ventures for DG. I find those earlier recordings to be tremendously exciting, marked by a continual sense of exploration like this brilliant orchestra is rediscovering the basic repertoire as they play. The conducting explodes with passion, but it’s not over-applied and comes very naturally. The only problem with some of these is that the sound, while admirably close and ear-popping, is really not up to more spacious modern standards. But somehow this fits Lenny’s visions - when there’s a fortissimo, it socks you in the face, which is probably exactly what he’d want.
    Very much agree. As Bernstein aged he fell prey to the idea that slower equaled more profound. Maybe it did sometimes. But all too often it just equaled ponderous and labored. His DG Tchaikovsky just doesn't work for me.

    Thus, much of my favorite Bernstein is on Sony and has already been mentioned, 1958 Le Sacre, his pioneering Ives, Nielsen S4,5. He was a great conductor of American composers, e.g. Ives, Copland, Gershwin, Harris. His DG Ives second symphony is one of my favorite works by him on that label. And he was a great Mahler conductor, almost always teetering on the edge but fighting to keep it under control. If you want Mahler with a sense of struggle, a sense of great issues being fought over, then he's your man.

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    Funny how people interpret things differently. I find much of Bernstein’s early stuff to be played more “straight” and thus more safe rather than daring. It was when he allowed himself greater liberty that he became more interesting, exploratory, and risk-taking to my ear. More bearing of his true soul as opposed to being conventional.

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    In no particular order:

    Sibelius 1 & 5
    Nielsen 3
    Schumann 2
    Mahler 7
    Shostakovich 7

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