For Bernstein enthusiasts, it's like owning a gold mine
albertatamazon | East Point, Georgia USA | 06/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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.)
Bernstein had a unique ability to make classical music accessible to everybody, without ever condescending to the listener or cheapening the music. His lectures on this album, previously only available to 1950's Book of the Month Subscribers (except for part of the Beethoven lecture, which is the only one that Bernstein did re-record in stereo), are invaluable both to music students and to those who are willing to listen. All of the lectures included cover all four movements of the symphonies discussed, except for the Brahms; that one is just as extensive as the others, but it covers only the first movement of the symphony.
However--be warned, the lectures do have a flaw that the symphonies themselves do not, and that is why I have subtracted one star.
The symphony recordings are obviously remastered from magnetic tape, but the lectures have been transferred from LP's. Thus, you will be able to hear an occasional click or pop from time to time, and there is a clearly audible "skip" on the Brahms lecture. It is NOT the CD being defective, or the laser beam on your player skipping; it is clearly the lecture recordings themselves. Deutsche Grammophon, which released this CD set, is very honest about the source of the transfers to compact disc, and is to be commended for this. (They mention it in the last page of the accompanying booklet.) But this shouldn't deter anybody from buying this enormously important Bernstein set."
Bernstein's Early American Recordings
Michael B. Richman | Portland, Maine USA | 04/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Come back Lennie, we need you
12_tone_lizzie | UK | 02/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This box is worth its price just for the five talks. Bernstein at this stage had a teaching style rather more stilted than the chatty sage of later years, but the combination of authority, insight and infectious enthusiasm is unique. Entertainingly offhand about the New World, he's at his best on the music he reveres most, i.e. Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms, the first movement of whose Fourth Symphony gets a particularly in-depth analysis that left me yearning for more. Practically anyone could enjoy and learn from these talks - they're fascinating fun without a whiff of down-dumbing. When the classical and the popular cross over nowadays, the results are usually compromised and crass, but with Bernstein there doesn't even seem to be a gap to be crossed over - just a passion to share these wonders with as many people as possible. We need his all-embracing talent and vision today more than ever.
Then there are the performances. I'm not the biggest fan of mono symphonic recordings, but these positively leap down your ears, unmannered, committed and electric. It's hard to believe what was achieved under the hasty recording conditions described in the booklet. The sound is a little fierce, but good enough to make this set a wonderful gift for any open-minded but symphonically ignorant acquaintance. I can easily imagine it turning someone on to classical music."