American Classics by the best ever
HB | Fort Mill, SC | 02/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD is an absolute must for any American classical music lover. Leonard Bernstein was an outstanding conductor. In this repertoire, he was the best ever, in my opinion.
Bernstein recorded Gershwin's "American in Paris" and "Rhapsody in Blue" in the late '50s with the same NY Philharmonic playing here. That LP (later transferred to CD) was superlative in every way. In this DVD, he conducts both works in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with the same orchestra as the LP. The results are the same.
The next selection is Ives' 2nd Symphony, a favorite of mine. This time the orchestra is the Bavarian Radio Symphony of Munich. They play the music with just as much style and precision as the NY Phil. did in Bernstein's great recording of the early '60's.
The last selection is "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives. This somewhat strange piece is basically a nocturne that has no real ending and for that matter no real middle, since it seems to be monothematic. I have no idea why the DVD producers placed it at the end since it appears to be from the same concert as the two earlier Gershwin works.
My only qualm is the quality of the picture. It is very close to being in black and white. On the other hand, the camera work is exceptional. Unlike many classical music DVDs, the cameramen here seemed to know the music inside out. Just about every solo is perfectly highlighted.
There is only one extra but it is a great one. Prior to conducting the Ives 2nd, Maestro Bernstein gives a brief talk about the music. He gave the talk in both English and German to the same audience. His German diction sounds excellent to me. This DVD was a joy to watch."
Languid Gershwin but brilliant Ives
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 07/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In 1976 Leonard Bernstein took the New York Philharmonic on a tour of Europe to celebrate the American bicentennial by conducting the quintessential American composer George Gershwin. Feeling a need to match this monumental occasion Bernstein conducts the two Gershwin pieces with a weighty seriousness that the music does not need and can barely sustain. Both An American in Paris and The Rhapsody in Blue run five minutes longer than their usual timing. By stretching the musical arguments nearly to their breaking point they lose some of their forward momentum and drama as well as much of their charm. There should be a real sense of excitement in these two wonderful pieces, something Bernstein had provided in his early recordings on Columbia (now Sony). Bernstein plays the piano on the Rhapsody and it is a slow, slightly uncomfortable performance with the conductor's enthusiasm overcoming his occasional mistakes. Even the author of the DVD's accompanying booklet bemoans the languid pace of the Gershwin pieces. The sound is somewhat distant but the color and picture are fine. Comments by the previous reviewer about the picture appearing nearly black and white was not the case on my copy.
The Ives Symphony No. 2 is another story altogether. Conducting the superb Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in a 1987 concert, Bernstein blossoms, producing a thrilling and sturdy performance that makes a strong case for this rather strange symphonic montage. The symphony has drive and drama, its witty quotations from American hymns and folk songs are always presented with the utmost musical logic and intelligence. Bernstein is in his element here and it shows. His performances of the symphony and of Ives' essay for music "The Unanswered Question" are simply superb and overshadow whatever weaknesses exist in the Gershwin performances. The sound is rich and full with crystalline DTS clarity in these digitally recorded films from a decade later. Given that Ives is a comparative rarity on DVD the strength of these performances makes this disc easy to recommend. Bernstein discusses the Ives symphony in a raspy weakened voice in an introduction given in English and German. He was already ill by this time and his rapidly approaching mortality lends an air of sadness to his appearance. Seeing him again only serves to remind us that this unique musical titan has proven to be irreplaceable.