Bernstein: How good a conductor?

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johnshade
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Bernstein: How good a conductor?

Post by johnshade » Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:46 am

~
I recently read a biography of Leonard Bernstein. It's hard to believe that he has been dead for almost 17 years. I pulled out of my collection three recordings conducted by him by composers he is not normally associated with -- Bartok, Liszt, and Strauss. I have several versions of the Bartok and Strauss. The works are Music for strings percussion and celesta/Concerto for Orchestra, The Faust Symphony, and Der Rosenkavalier. IMO, his versions of these works are extremely well done. My question is:

How good a conductor was Leonard Bernstein?
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Post by Ralph » Thu Mar 29, 2007 9:52 am

In my view, one of the finest I've ever seen in person. Bear in mind that for many classical music lovers of my generation, Lenny was larger than life. He became part of our lives when we were kids when he delivered those extraordinary TV programs about music.

On the podium he was dazzling and some found more terpsichore than talent but they were in the minority.

And, again, his commitment to political and social issues stood him apart from almost all his colleagues.

But his Mahler...so wonderul. As are a huge number of other recorded performances.
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Post by SamLowry » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:31 am

His childrens' concerts on DVD show how much he grunts while conducting -- there's a microphone under his chin. I wonder how audible that is on recordings. He defined the Classical era as including JS Bach, at least when explaining to the kids. I read last night in a piano publication the opinion that nobody played Gershwin quite like Bernstein, well, specifically that nobody else played Gershwin as much like James P. Johnson or Fats Waller probably would have.

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Post by Barry » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:42 am

He is probably one of my half dozen or so favorite conductors. He was one of the best in Shostakovich, Sibelius, Schumann, Mahler (he's my personal favorite Mahler conductor) and others.
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Re: Bernstein: How good a conductor?

Post by Heck148 » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:51 am

johnshade wrote:~
How good a conductor was Leonard Bernstein?
one of the greatest overall.

he had a huge range of repertoire - in much of which he truly excelled.

he certainly had his misfires, and weaknesses, but overall - a great musician, great conductor, worthy of mention amongst the very best.

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Re: Bernstein: How good a conductor?

Post by Hondo » Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:07 pm

johnshade wrote:
How good a conductor was Leonard Bernstein?
Like many conductors, Bernstein conducted some pieces very well, and others pretty badly. His overly romantic and "weltschmerz" approach to conducting some music was pretty appaling with just about every composer except Mahler. His complaints about Glenn Gould's tempi in the recording of Brahms 1st Piano Concerto was ironic since Bernstein's tempi were even slower when he re-recorded the work with Zimerman.

Some of the works he conducted very well, in my opinion, include:
Anything by Mahler
Anything by Copland and Ives
Beethoven's "Eroica" (NYP recording)
Shostakovich 5th Symphony (NYP recording)

Some of his less sucessful recordings include:
Just about everything by Beethoven except the NYP "Eroica"
Tchaikovsky's symphonies
Sibelius symphonies
Mozart symphonies

Gabe

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Post by Singer » Thu Mar 29, 2007 1:04 pm

I once had the honour and pleasure of interviewing Fischer-Dieskau. He claimed that Bernstein was possibly the greatest ever interpreter of Mahler's music. An opinion with which I would not much disagree.
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Post by Chalkperson » Thu Mar 29, 2007 1:53 pm

Try his readings of Shostakovich 1+7 and we are fortunate that we can see just how great a Mahler interpreter he was on the DG box of DVD's, and on the subject of conductors and DVD's does anyone look like they are enjoying their job more than Carlos Kleiber in his set of live DVD's. I for one would be more than happy on the preverbial desert island if I had only the visual company of these two conductors.

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Re: Bernstein: How good a conductor?

Post by GK » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:15 pm

Hondo wrote:
johnshade wrote:
How good a conductor was Leonard Bernstein?
Like many conductors, Bernstein conducted some pieces very well, and others pretty badly. His overly romantic and "weltschmerz" approach to conducting some music was pretty appaling with just about every composer except Mahler. His complaints about Glenn Gould's tempi in the recording of Brahms 1st Piano Concerto was ironic since Bernstein's tempi were even slower when he re-recorded the work with Zimerman.

Some of the works he conducted very well, in my opinion, include:
Anything by Mahler
Anything by Copland and Ives
Beethoven's "Eroica" (NYP recording)
Shostakovich 5th Symphony (NYP recording)

Some of his less sucessful recordings include:
Just about everything by Beethoven except the NYP "Eroica"
Tchaikovsky's symphonies
Sibelius symphonies
Mozart symphonies

Gabe
One important omission among works that Bernstein did well--his own.

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Mar 29, 2007 2:47 pm

Chalkperson wrote:Try his readings of Shostakovich 1+7
Beg pardon; but did Bernstein make cuts (or, a cut) in the Seventh?

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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:25 pm

I also think his Haydn London symphonies are superb - even better than Beecham!

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Post by Modernistfan » Thu Mar 29, 2007 6:56 pm

In his earlier recording of the Shostakovich Seventh, the NYPO recording from about 1963-64, he did make a big cut in the repetitious "invasion" section of the first movement; as I remember it, the effect of the cut is to introduce an abrupt gearchange, the musical equivalent of someone stepping down hard on the accelerator of an automatic-transmission car so that the car immediately shifts down one or even two gears. That was the Columbia (later Sony) recording. No one else had a comparable effect in the many recordings I have heard since.

In his later DG recording with the Chicago Symphony from about 1988, he made no such cut, and took somewhat slower tempos overall.

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Post by RebLem » Thu Mar 29, 2007 10:44 pm

In my opinion, some of Bernstein's still arguably unexcelled recordings are

The Haydn Creation.
The Beethoven Missa Solemnis (either recording).
The Mendelssohn Scottish and Reformation Symphonies.
The Mahler 3rd Sym (Sony).
The Mahler 4th Symphony (DGG, with a boy soprano, for which Bernstein, IMO, makes a persuasive case).
Bernstein's own Mass. Many will disagree with me, but I consider the Mass to be Bernstein's magnum opus as a composer.

In addition, Bernstein carved out pathways which many have followed, more successfully than he, but we still owe him a debt of gratitude for showing the way.

He revived interest in Sibelius in the 40's and 50's, when interest in that composer had been waning. Bernstein's recordings of the symphonies were trail-blazers; in every case, there are better recordings now, but we might not have them if Bernstein had not advocated for his work.

Bernstein was the first to record the Schumann symphonies in Schumann's own orchestrations. Others have followed, but he was the first.

The Mahler Symphonies. I think--and I know this will be controversial--that there are now better recordings of every Mahler symphony than Bernstein's, with the definite exception of the Sony 3rd and the possible exception of the DGG 4th. But again, though he was not the first to record all of them, his was for many years the standard for most of them. Up to this last year, it was my personal favorite; I have in the last year discovered the Segerstam and Kubelik sets, both of which I consider better overall. But, again, Bernstein was the trailblazer.

And maybe The Faust Symphony of Liszt, too, ought to be in the best list. I am rather uncertain about this because Liszt is not a composer I relate to well, but I do recall that one of those famous Young Peoples' Concerts was devoted entirely to Liszt.
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Post by val » Fri Mar 30, 2007 3:59 am

Bernstein had a very peculiar style, very enthusiasting, giving a strong expression to all the moments of a work, but sometimes he didn't seem very concerned about the global structure and even the balance of the complete work. In this sense he was the opposite of conducters such as Toscanini, Klemperer, Szell or Ancerl.

His best interpretations, in my opinion, are in Haydn, the best Paris Symphonies I ever heard (82 to 87), Sibelius (the 3rd and 7th with New York, the First with the VPO), and above all Mahler (the 5th and 6th with the VPO, the 7th with the NYPO, the 9th with the BPO).

With the years his interpretations become slower and more massive, but always very powerful.

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Post by gfweis » Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:58 am

I don't think Lenny's Nielsen has yet been mentioned. His Sym. No. 5 is the best I have heard, with excellent section and solo work, especially the unbelievable playing of Elden C. Bailey on snare drum. It's not exactly an idiomatic reading, but is so electrifying you don't care. His Nielsen 3rd, which is with the Royal Danish orchestra, is almost as good.
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Post by John F » Fri Mar 30, 2007 6:48 am

Bernstein didn't conduct much opera, but I like his "Falstaff" and "Rosenkavalier" with the Vienna Philharmonic very much (saw them both in Vienna). As with his orchestral conducting, Bernstein fastens on to the character of the music and plays it to the hilt. So "Falstaff" is even faster and more brilliant than Toscanini's, which I wouldn't have thought possible, while "Rosenkavalier" alternates between conversational lightness and drawn-out sensuality and sentiment. Not for everyone, and the casting of both operas has some surprises, but they're favorites of mine.
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Re: Bernstein: How good a conductor?

Post by johnshade » Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:11 am

johnshade wrote: ~
I pulled out of my collection three recordings conducted by him by composers he is not normally associated with -- Bartok, Liszt, and Strauss. I have several versions of the Bartok and Strauss. The works are Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta..........
I like Bernstein's version better than the new Nikolaus Harnoncourt version (which I have and highly rated on Amazon). Do any of you have the Bernstein in this work? Opinion?
Last edited by johnshade on Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by DavidRoss » Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:15 am

Even though his emotionally indulgent tendencies run counter to my preferences, I regard him as one of the great conductors on record and in shaping the musical culture of the 20th Century--especially in the U.S. I strongly disagree with the opinion previously expressed slamming his Sibelius. His recording of the symphony cycle with the NYPO in the '60s is one of the finest--on the warmer side, for sure, but far from excessive, with gorgeous playing from the NYPO--especially the winds--and no weak spots in the cycle. And several--the first 3 and the 5th--are still among my favorites.

I agree with RebLem (for once!) that his Haydn Creation is superb. I'm also fond of his Dvorak, Ives, Schuman, Copland, and Gershwin. And Bernstein. And that Mahler 4th with the boy soprano could be my favorite 4th...if not for the boy soprano!
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Post by GK » Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:23 am

I'm familiar with two Bernstein opera recordings. "Carmen" with a surprisingly good Marilyn Horne worked very well. In "La Boheme" bucking against such combos as Pavarotti/Freni, Domingo/Caballe, and Bergonzi/Tebaldi, he used lesser singers, Jerry Hadley and Angelina Reaux, and played it slower than usual. It didn't work. As for the reasons for his choice of singers, some said he wanted younger sounding voices others claimed that he didn't want singers which would overshadow him.

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Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:32 am

I tend to agree with most of the opinions expressed so far on Bernstein, but disagree STRONGLY about his Beethoven Third being the only one of that composer's symphonies that Lenny did well. His "Pastorale" is my personal favorite recording of that work (along with the Reiner).

For Schumann, I find him a mixed bag. While he does the Second Sym. superbly (NY Phil.), he ruins the coda of the Third by racing through it in a manner NOT AT ALL indicated in the score. His Fourth is quite good, and his "Spring" is a bit over-the-top.

His Brahms doesn't impress me one way or the other, but the Third (1st mvt) is dreadful---he drags it out, making it soggy and overblown, like no one else ever did.

Yes, his Liszt is excellent----too bad he didn't record ALL of the tone-poems and the "Dante" Symphonie, too.

I still prefer Solti for Mahler, but Bernstein is also very fine. Oddly, I've never heard any of his Bruckner recordings.....

Isn't he the best for modern American composers as well as Stravinsky? I enjoy his Hindemith as well. Can one still get his Hindemith E-Flat?

I'm not impressed with his performances of 18th-century works.

Tschüß,
Jack
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Post by Heck148 » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:01 am

DavidRoss wrote:I strongly disagree with the opinion previously expressed slamming his Sibelius. His recording of the symphony cycle with the NYPO in the '60s is one of the finest--on the warmer side, for sure, but far from excessive, with gorgeous playing from the NYPO--especially the winds--and no weak spots in the cycle. And several--the first 3 and the 5th--are still among my favorites.
absolutely. Berrnstein's NYPO Sibelius symphony cycle is the best I've ever heard, and one of the few complete symphonic sets that I recommend..

#5 has never been equalled, and 1,3 unparalled, and 4 and 7 at the highest level as well. no weakspots, for sure.

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:11 am

Well, by and large I enjoy the Sibelius set, as well. I don't know that I could praise it quite so highly, but it is an excellent listen.

In fact, I'd cue it up now, only I am in the throes of a Shostakovich marathon. (And, well, Bernstein is not my preferred interpreter of Shostakovich.)

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Post by pizza » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:27 am

In my view he was close to incomparable with some American works, such as Ives' 2nd Symphony and Wm. Schuman's 3rd, both of which he recorded twice. I enjoy his later live recordings of these works on DG even more than his earlier Columbia (Sony) studio recordings. He simply takes off and never looks back. One can sense that he kept the audiences on the edge of their seats.

As the old saying goes, "When you're hot, you're hot! -- when you're not, you're not!" In this repertoire, rarely was he "not"!

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Post by Heck148 » Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:53 am

pizza wrote:In my view he was close to incomparable with some American works,
agreed - he excelled in the American 20th century repertoire.
Copland, Gershwin, Schuman, Harris, Thompson, and of course his own works.
He really understood the jazz idiom as well, and he can be relied upon to give a vigorous rendition of any music that features this element.

I generally prefer his earlier NYPO/Sony recordings, but not in every case..his Mahler #3 II for DG I prefer to the earlier one - same with his Shostakovich 1 and 7 - his later DG renditions with the CSO are two of the greatest performances he ever produced, or that anyone ever produced.

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Post by Hondo » Fri Mar 30, 2007 2:23 pm

RebLem wrote:
He revived interest in Sibelius in the 40's and 50's, when interest in that composer had been waning. Bernstein's recordings of the symphonies were trail-blazers; in every case, there are better recordings now, but we might not have them if Bernstein had not advocated for his work.
I think Bernstein had more to do with the Mahler revival than the Sibelius revival in the '50s and 60's. The Brits would have made sure we never forgot about Sibelius! Beecham was one of his strongest proponents.

Gabe

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Post by Hondo » Fri Mar 30, 2007 2:36 pm

DavidRoss wrote: I strongly disagree with the opinion previously expressed slamming his Sibelius.
My disdain for Bernstein's Sibelius comes from the fact that I prefer my Sibelius lean and swift. The performances of his works by Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg, for me at least, are right on. Bernstein's Sibelius is rich, lush, and very romantic. Some people like their Sibelius that way - which is fine!

Gabe

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Post by karlhenning » Fri Mar 30, 2007 2:42 pm

Hondo wrote:My disdain for Bernstein's Sibelius comes from the fact that I prefer my Sibelius lean and swift . . . Bernstein's Sibelius is rich, lush, and very romantic.
What, both sets, Gabe?

From what I remember of his recordings of the Fifth and Seventh with the Wiener Philharmoniker, your quarrel seems to me just. But the set with the NYPhil is in no way excessive in those qualities.

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~Karl
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Post by Heck148 » Fri Mar 30, 2007 4:24 pm

Hondo wrote:My disdain for Bernstein's Sibelius comes from the fact that I prefer my Sibelius lean and swift. .... Bernstein's Sibelius is rich, lush, and very romantic.
Not the NYPO recordings....these are big, brawny, brassy and muscular, with hefty string sound, full-throated woodwinds and ripping, roaring brasses...lush and rich are not adjectives that spring to mind with the NYPO recordings from the 60s....

Karajan's Sibelius is rich and lush, and smoothed over, glossed over and rounded off. no thanx...I'll take Lenny/NYPO's big, brassy, brawny sonorities...

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Post by Wallingford » Fri Mar 30, 2007 5:10 pm

I once idolized him and thought he was infallible, but I'd eventually discover that he hadn't quite the FLAWLESS techinique that his Columbia/Sony labelmates, Ormandy & Szell, had. If you go too much further into his recordings, you'll find he was just as human as you & I.

That said, he left a huge body of unsurpassed recordings.
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Post by Hondo » Sat Mar 31, 2007 11:26 am

karlhenning wrote:[What, both sets, Gabe?


Cheers,
~Karl
I have only heard the VPO set, so my apologies to Lenny if my comments did not apply to the earlier NYPO set.

Gabe

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Post by rogch » Sun Apr 01, 2007 6:35 am

Unlike a couple of other posters i am very fond of Bernstein's Mozart recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic (at least the symphonies). Their interpretations aren't very fashionable these days, but show very good musicianship in my opinion. But i had to hear them a few times before i fully appreciated them.
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Post by Lance » Sun Apr 01, 2007 11:46 am

For my two cents, Bernstein, one of the last "showman" conductors of the twentieth century, following in the footsteps of Koussevitzky, Stokowski, and others, was a supreme conductor and musician, a superb pianist and highly gifted composer. All rolled into one man of genius, it would seem quite natural for Bernstein to rise to the top, as he certainly did.

For me he really brought to life some of the best-loved showstoppers, overtures, etc., and I thought his cycle of the Sibelius symphonies to be outstanding. His Mahler, for me, would probably rank in the highest echelon of interpreters whether it be the symphonies or song cycles. His Shostakovich (especially the live Tokyo-5th Symphony) was a revelation to me and it was that performance, alone, that found a new fan when the recording was issued ... a fan of both, the composer and conductor.

Bernstein's Haydn, Beethoven, and even Vivaldi (the latter not for the faint of heart--thinking the Concerto for Diverse Instruments) brought that music to present day highest standards. Talk about a man for "all seasons" and all repertoire, Leonard Bernstein fits that position better than most conductors during the last half of the twentieth century.

But it was in his collaborative performances on disc that reveals a conductor of unique sensitivity—almost superhuman—qualities, whether it be piano concertos performed by Glenn Gould, Serkin, Previn, Graffman, Entremont, Casadesus, André Watts, or works with violinists such as Francescatti or Stern, cellist Rostropovich, vocalists Caballé, Horne, Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Eileen Farrell (Wagner), Hampson, Callas ... the list goes on and on. The repertoire could be German, French, English, American, Italian ... Bernstein offered something special and memorable. His Gershwin and Rachmaninoff collaborations on disc still stand the test of time. And in his own music, he was incomparable.

Yes, I think Leonard Bernstein will go down in history as one of the greatest conductors of all time; as the conductor that brought the NYP to new heights, heights that had already been put into gear by his predecessor, Dimitri Mitropoulos, who to this day, still doesn't receive the acclaim he should.

Bernstein did more to bring "classical music" to young people to help music thrive for another half century or more. In that vein, who replaces him? None that I can think of immediately.
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Post by piston » Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:50 pm

Monsieur Lance! This one is for you:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjdAyy1xatA

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Post by CharmNewton » Mon Apr 02, 2007 12:34 am

Hondo wrote:
karlhenning wrote:[What, both sets, Gabe?


Cheers,
~Karl
I have only heard the VPO set, so my apologies to Lenny if my comments did not apply to the earlier NYPO set.

Gabe
I don't recall Bernstein recording a complete cycle in Vienna. I remember the 1st, 5th and 7th and possibly a 2nd (not sure) but not the others.

While not favored by critics, the NYPO set must have been popular as it sold at full-price from its initial issue throughout the LP era.

John

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Post by Lance » Mon Apr 02, 2007 1:03 am

piston wrote:Monsieur Lance! This one is for you:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjdAyy1xatA
Holy moly - as the saying goes. This is an incredible piece of work. Not too many pianists I know would be willing to act as conductor AND soloist in this Ravel concerto! Bernstein is a genius as this clip obviously shows. Thanks for sharing this, Piston!
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Post by DavidRoss » Mon Apr 02, 2007 7:51 am

Hondo wrote:
DavidRoss wrote: I strongly disagree with the opinion previously expressed slamming his Sibelius.
My disdain for Bernstein's Sibelius comes from the fact that I prefer my Sibelius lean and swift. The performances of his works by Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg, for me at least, are right on. Bernstein's Sibelius is rich, lush, and very romantic. Some people like their Sibelius that way - which is fine!
I, too, prefer Sibelius on the lean side, usually choosing Vänskä, Berglund, Bernstein, or Blomstedt. Odd that you would place Järvi in such company; his cycle was my prefered "rich, lush, and very romantic" cycle in good sound--at least, until I heard Segerstam, first with the Danes and then with the Finns.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

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Post by pizza » Mon Apr 02, 2007 8:15 am

This goes to show the greatness and the universal appeal of Sibelius' music where opposite approaches to its performance can work so well.

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Apr 02, 2007 8:25 am

pizza wrote:This goes to show the greatness and the universal appeal of Sibelius' music where opposite approaches to its performance can work so well.
Word.

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Post by rogch » Mon Apr 02, 2007 9:17 am

For many years Sibelius was more popular in England and the US than in Germany and Austria. This perhaps explains why Bernstein made better Sibelius recordings in New York than in Vienna. The Berliners learned Sibelius' music through Karajan's enduring enthusiasm. Later Lorin Maazel has recorded the Sibelius symphonies with the Vienna PO. I haven't heard those, and it is not the first set mentioned by the reviewers. But some customers on Amazon have been very enthusiastic.
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Post by Joe Barron » Mon Apr 02, 2007 11:40 am

After seeing this thread and thinking it over, I realized there is not a single recording of Bernstein's that I have that I do not like. His Haydn and Nielsen and Ravel and Copland and Stravinskly and Mahler are are all entergetic and listenable. His Ives, too, though with the exception of Fourth of July, he did not record the most advanced of that composer's work, leaving the Fourth Symphony and the Orchestral Sets to others. (And he should have known better than to call Ives the Grandma Moses of American music.) So he must be a great conductor

On the other hand, I must say the one tme I saw him in person, it was a bitter disappointment. He conducted Ives's Second in Danbury for the Ives Centennial in 1974, with, I believe, the American composers orchestra, and my memory is that he butchered it. He was dancing and jumping all over the podium, and the orchestra couldn't follow him. Cues were missed, entrances were late. I don't think it was the fault of the musicians, because Micahel Tilson Thomas conducted the second half of the program --- in more challenging pieces — and they were spot on.

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Post by DavidRoss » Mon Apr 02, 2007 10:24 pm

rogch wrote:For many years Sibelius was more popular in England and the US than in Germany and Austria. This perhaps explains why Bernstein made better Sibelius recordings in New York than in Vienna. The Berliners learned Sibelius' music through Karajan's enduring enthusiasm. Later Lorin Maazel has recorded the Sibelius symphonies with the Vienna PO. I haven't heard those, and it is not the first set mentioned by the reviewers. But some customers on Amazon have been very enthusiastic.
Maazel's WP cycle is very good--the one through which I learned to love Sibelius
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Post by pizza » Thu Apr 05, 2007 8:57 am

Joe Barron wrote:. . . . are all energetic and listenable. His Ives, too, though with the exception of Fourth of July, he did not record the most advanced of that composer's work, leaving the Fourth Symphony and the Orchestral Sets to others. (And he should have known better than to call Ives the Grandma Moses of American music.)
Bernstein recorded the entire so-called "Holidays Symphony": "Washington's Birthday"; "Decoration Day"; "The Fourth of July"; "Thanksgiving" ("Forefathers' Day"), although at separate recording sessions scattered throughout the '60s. Sony included them all in a remastered CD in the "Bernstein Century" anthology, together with "The Unanswered Question", "Central Park in the Dark" and Elliott Carter's "Concerto for Orchestra".

I never understood why he considered Ives a "primitive" as he surely must have known that he had received extensive formal musical training at Yale.

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Post by Niki » Fri Apr 06, 2007 7:02 pm

Bernstein was a genius and his performances outstanding for any discerning listener. One cannot deny his exceptional interpretation with almost anything he did. Of course taste plays a role and if you don't like his personality, you won't like his interpretation.
I happen to be less enthused by his Shostakovitch than others but I recognize his take on it - dispite the fact I think he understood little at the time about the reality of life behind DSCH music.

His Falstaff has no equal, an absolute masterpiece. His Mahler is phenomenal and for the second half of the XXth century he literally rediscovered Mahler for majority of audiences. Yves, Copland and his own Candide, WSS, are masterpieces.
Lenny was maybe the most erudite, best lecturer on music. His YPC and 6 talks at Harvard are jewels to delight generations.

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Post by pizza » Sat Apr 07, 2007 1:25 pm

Niki wrote:Bernstein was a genius and his performances outstanding for any discerning listener. One cannot deny his exceptional interpretation with almost anything he did. Of course taste plays a role and if you don't like his personality, you won't like his interpretation.
I happen to be less enthused by his Shostakovitch than others but I recognize his take on it - dispite the fact I think he understood little at the time about the reality of life behind DSCH music.

His Falstaff has no equal, an absolute masterpiece. His Mahler is phenomenal and for the second half of the XXth century he literally rediscovered Mahler for majority of audiences. Yves, Copland and his own Candide, WSS, are masterpieces.
Lenny was maybe the most erudite, best lecturer on music. His YPC and 6 talks at Harvard are jewels to delight generations.
Bernstein had his strengths and weaknesses, same as any other great conductor.

His live Shostakovich 7th with the Chicago SO is one of the finest performances of that composer's works ever committed to disc. There is no reason to suppose that he was any less aware of the difficult realities of life in the USSR for artists than anyone else in his position.

Toscanini's 1950 performance of "Falstaff" is still the benchmark against which all others are measured and many conductors who have performed the work have studied it for that reason.

Bernstein was one of several conductors whose work included much of Mahler's music in the early '60s and who focused the attention of the post-war public in that direction; it includes, of course, Bruno Walter who pretty much pioneered in the field, as well as Jascha Horenstein, Otto Klemperer, Maurice Abravanel and Hans Rosbaud.

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Post by CharmNewton » Sat Apr 07, 2007 4:05 pm

pizza wrote: Bernstein was one of several conductors whose work included much of Mahler's music in the early '60s and who focused the attention of the post-war public in that direction; it includes, of course, Bruno Walter who pretty much pioneered in the field, as well as Jascha Horenstein, Maurice Abravanel and Hans Rosbaud.
While Mahler's works truly entered the standard repertoire in the 1960s, his music has been performed since its creation. For example, when Frederick Stock conducted the 5th Symphony on March 22, 1907 that performance wasn't even the American premiere (that honor went to Cincinnati two years earlier). Mengelberg may have been Mahler's greatest champion in the early years, but Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Koussevitzky, Stokowski, Monteux and Reiner also conducted his works. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Gabrilowitsch also performed his works in Detroit. Furtwangler conducted Mahler early in his career and Toscanini was very aware of his music even if he didn't perform it.

Bernstein held his own among some the greatest conductors who have ever lived. While some of his recordings can sound a tad undisciplined, there's no question in my mind that the N.Y. Philharmonic he left was a better orchestra than the one he inherited (which was capable of embarassingly sloppy playing under Mitropoulos). Bernstein struck me as a person who was in love with life and wanted to absorb its infinite intensity. I believe he gave as much as he took.

John

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Post by Lance » Sat Apr 07, 2007 11:03 pm

CharmNewton wrote: [snipped] Bernstein held his own among some the greatest conductors who have ever lived. While some of his recordings can sound a tad undisciplined, there's no question in my mind that the N.Y. Philharmonic he left was a better orchestra than the one he inherited (which was capable of embarassingly sloppy playing under Mitropoulos). Bernstein struck me as a person who was in love with life and wanted to absorb its infinite intensity. I believe he gave as much as he took.

John
Hi John:

I'm quite surprised at your statement (in red) above. I have been a Mitropoulos fan for a long, long time, have all of his recordings (and a substantial number of off-the-air recordings). I believe Bernstein inherited the NYP when it at its greatest heights. It had among the best musicians at first desks, and was honed to perfection by Mitropoulos, who is lately getting the credit he deserves. It's true, many of his recoredings were made in mono, and he left the orchestra with just a few state-of-the-art stereophonic recordings. However, I would be interested in your pointing to the "embarrassingly sloppy playing" you have heard. Can you be specific in some recordings you are aware of that this is displayed? Mitropoulos was known as a perfectionist (much in the style of Monteux) who didn't get angry (often) with his orchestra. Instead, he worked diligently with his orchestra to achieve the results he wanted. (I'm thinking here of the various Saint-Saëns tone poems he recorded, monaurally.) I might have agreed more if it was the Minneapolis Symphony you referred to, but even that orchestra was lauded more under Mitropoulos than any other conductor who ever led it pre-1960. Indeed, it was the Minneapolis that made the first recording, to the best of my knowledge, of the complete Mahler Symphony No. 1, and it was held in such high regard that Sony reissued it in their "Heritage" series on compact disc. But then we are talking about the New York Philharmonic!
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Post by CharmNewton » Sat Apr 07, 2007 11:54 pm

Lance wrote:
CharmNewton wrote: [snipped] Bernstein held his own among some the greatest conductors who have ever lived. While some of his recordings can sound a tad undisciplined, there's no question in my mind that the N.Y. Philharmonic he left was a better orchestra than the one he inherited (which was capable of embarassingly sloppy playing under Mitropoulos). Bernstein struck me as a person who was in love with life and wanted to absorb its infinite intensity. I believe he gave as much as he took.

John
Hi John:

I'm quite surprised at your statement (in red) above. I have been a Mitropoulos fan for a long, long time, have all of his recordings (and a substantial number of off-the-air recordings). I believe Bernstein inherited the NYP when it at its greatest heights. It had among the best musicians at first desks, and was honed to perfection by Mitropoulos, who is lately getting the credit he deserves. It's true, many of his recoredings were made in mono, and he left the orchestra with just a few state-of-the-art stereophonic recordings. However, I would be interested in your pointing to the "embarrassingly sloppy playing" you have heard. Can you be specific in some recordings you are aware of that this is displayed? Mitropoulos was known as a perfectionist (much in the style of Monteux) who didn't get angry (often) with his orchestra. Instead, he worked diligently with his orchestra to achieve the results he wanted. (I'm thinking here of the various Saint-Saëns tone poems he recorded, monaurally.) I might have agreed more if it was the Minneapolis Symphony you referred to, but even that orchestra was lauded more under Mitropoulos than any other conductor who ever led it pre-1960. Indeed, it was the Minneapolis that made the first recording, to the best of my knowledge, of the complete Mahler Symphony No. 1, and it was held in such high regard that Sony reissued it in their "Heritage" series on compact disc. But then we are talking about the New York Philharmonic!
In the 6-CD Music & Arts Box of Mahler symphonies conducted by Mitropoulos, numbers 1, 3, 5 and 9 were with the N.Y. Philharmonic. 1 and 3 were the worst in this regard, with a few serious lapses in ensemble I would have never expected from a major American orchestra. I never heard anything like this in all the years I attended concerts in Chicago. Three of these (1, 5, 9) were from the 1960 Mahler centennial concerts and may have been single performances. It's a tribute to the power and sweep of Mitropoulos' conception of the works that these moments have minimal impact on the performances as a whole.

To tie this back to Bernstein, Joan Peyser wrote that Mitropoulos had a tremendous influence on Bernstein. Mitropoulos' performances reminded me of Bernstein's New York recordings, although the latter are even more searing and much better played and recorded.

John

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Post by John F » Sun Apr 08, 2007 6:08 am

After a few good years under Mitropoulos, the New York Philharmonic players behaved amazingly badly toward him, with open insults in rehearsals. It stands to reason that they also played badly for him, though not all the time by any means, and not when making a recording.

Also, I believe the 1960 performance of the 3rd symphony was the NYPhil's first, and they evidently hadn't mastered it. The symphony was played 4 times that week, and the recording is an aircheck of the last of them as broadcast. Despite performances under Mitropoulos, Walter, and others (Mahler himself had been their music director early in the century), the Phil had not yet developed its "Mahler culture" with all the symphonies comfortably in its repertoire and its own approach to playing them. Mitropoulos only began that development, and Bernstein and Boulez clinched it.

The New York Philharmonic has a long history of giving its conductors a hard time if they don't crack the whip, as Toscanini, Rodzinski, and most recently Masur had to do. But nowadays they play well much more consistently than they used to. I suppose this is partly because rank and file orchestral players are more skilled today than they once were, and maybe also because of greater self-respect and caring about their reputation.
John Francis

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Post by Heck148 » Sun Apr 08, 2007 9:31 am

Lance and John -

regarding Mitropoulos and the NYPO , you are both right....

the NYPO in the '50s was one of the greatest orchestras....superb personnel, capable of brilliant, virtuouso playing, but also inconsistent...

they could be dazzling [Prok - R&J, Tchaik 6] but they could be sloppy as well...the general feeling seemed to be that Mitropoulos was a great musician, and interpreter, but probably too nice, overall,esp with a tough bunch like the NYPO. the players took advantage of this attribute.

I studied with th pirincipal bassoonist from those years, Bill Polisi. he liked Mitropoulos, as a musician and a person, and loved playing for him. he once hinted that perhaps Mitropoulos was too easy-going...

if the musicians had shown such inconsistency for conductors like Toscanini, Reiner, Rodzinski, Szell, etc, they would have been out...

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Post by CharmNewton » Sun Apr 08, 2007 10:57 am

Mitropoulos may have been ahead of his time, so to speak, and in his handling of the orchestra may have been more like conductors today (although the Carlos Kalmar, conductor of the Oregon Symphony here in Portland, has developed a reputation as a taskmaster and made some long-time players very unhappy). Mitropoulos would have probably thrived in Chicago, where the orchestra has played with immense pride no matter who was conducting.

I've read about the difficulties conductors have had with the N.Y. Philharmonic, and I confess it irks me. I don't understand that mentality--the orchestra carries the banner of its city (and country) out into the world for all to see. Perhaps side work is or was really easy to get and the members of the orchestra really didn't need the jobs.

John

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