Leonard Bernstein Collectors Edition

Leonard Bernstein: The DG Years

Bernstein's large and wide-ranging orchestral discography for Deutsche Grammophon amply documents the conductor's later years from the late 1970s up until his valedictory concert on August 19, 1990 at Tanglewood. The “Leonard Bernstein Collectors Edition" brings this legacy together in comprehensive, systematic box set releases, including several long unavailable items and a new, previously unreleased recording, from 1986, of Lukas Foss's The Song of Songs. A collection of this size and scope not only represents a boon to music lovers who missed these recordings in previous incarnations, but also signify that the time is ripe for a major reassessment of “late Lenny."

Earlier in his career, Bernstein told a New York Times reporter that: “I don't want to spend my life, as Toscanini did, studying and restudying the same fifty pieces of music. It would bore me to death." Yet revisiting familiar works, as Bernstein often did in his final decade, invariably yielded fresh discoveries, novel conceptions, increased mastery of detail, and renewed commitment. These characteristics abound in Bernstein's Deutsche Grammophon recordings.

The New York Philharmonic gave their all to their former Music Director and beloved “Conductor Laureate" as they revisited benchmarks of their mutual discographical past, often to radically different, even controversial results. The finale of Tchaikovsky's “Pathétique" Symphony, for instance, is an extreme example of Bernstein's later tendencies towards broad tempi and expansive phrasing (17'12" in 1986, versus 11'35" in 1964), although one might argue Bernstein is attempting to provide a counterbalance to the long, brooding first movement.) While Francesca da Rimini normally falls within the 20-25 minute mark, Bernstein's 27 minute timing is not just a matter of duration. Associate principal bassist Jon Deak recalled the rehearsal. “We were playing along happily when he suddenly put down his baton and said, 'You people don't understand it. This is the longest melody ever written. Let's play it that way, for heaven's sake.'"


Jed Distler

Full Discography