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Kultur presents
Leonard Bernstein: The Concert Collection (1970-1979)

"We cannot listen to this Ninth Symphony without emerging from it changed, enriched, encouraged. And to the man who could give the world so precious a gift as this, no honor can be too great, and no celebration joyful enough. It's almost like celebrating the birthday of music itself."
- Leonard Bernstein

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 24, 2006

Stars: Leonard Bernstein
Other Stars: Gwyneth Jones, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Martti Talvela, Marilyn Horne, Boris Belkin, Stuart Burrow, Martina Arroyo, Josephine Veasey, Rugerro Raimondi, Christa Ludwig, Lukas Foss, Nancy Williams, Julian Patrick
Director: Arne Arnbom, Humphrey Burton, Pierre Cavassilas, Kenichiro Ishida, Noel Clark, Bill Hays

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 11h:19m:43s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 032031152595
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Leonard Bernstein was famous for making the great works of classical music accessible, such as through his Young People's Concerts programs. This set of nine concerts conducted by Bernstein during the 1970s continues that effort to bring great music into the home. And what great music it is: there's much that's familiar, some that's not, and all of it's quite terrific and performed with Bernstein's trademark panache that's fun to watch in and of itself.

The first two discs start off with two pieces filmed in Vienna in 1970 during the Beethoven Bicentennial celebrations. The key of C major was always one of jubilation and triumph for Beethoven, and Bernstein truly runs with that theme in a vivacious performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, conducting from the keyboard. The performance of the Ninth Symphony on Disc 2 is one of the more disappointing on the set; it's rather rote and workmanlike, with little drama in the first movement, though it does redeem itself somewhat in the Scherzo, which rollicks along at a breakneck pace. The quartet, including Gwyneth Jones and Placido Domingo is exceptionally fine.

Disc 3 takes us to Paris for an all-Ravel concert. The absolute highlight of this set is the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G major, with its bluesy opening movement. Bernstein (again conducting from the piano) plays this with verve, and the moving Adagio is heartbreaking in its pathos; Bernstein smilingly nods with approval at the end, well aware that they have created a beautiful thing. The concert continues with a variety of shorter works both well known (La Valse) and less familiar (La Tzigane), concluding with a raucous rendition of Bolero.

The next two discs cover very different versions of the Requiem mass; that of Berlioz, performed again in Paris, and the massive Verdi Requiem, performed in London. The Berlioz is a contemplative work that is given a sensitive rendering by Bernstein. But he really gets to hold forth in the operatic Verdi Requiem, aided by a first-class quartet. The Dies Irae shakes the edifice of St. Paul's Cathedral with the shrieks of the damned, and its delicate pleas for mercy provide a stark contrast. It's a joy to watch Bernstein conduct this piece, as he throws himself into every moment of it. Soprano Martina Arroyo does gives a luminous quality to both the Lachrymosa and the concluding Libera Me. It's a stunning performance of one of the towering vocal works. An unusual mix that brings the winds forward reveals details often lost in the shuffle, and it has surprising clarity given the cavernous setting.

Disc 6 contains the Schumann Spring Symphony (No. 1) and the dramatic Shostakovitch No. 5, performed in Tokyo by the New York Philharmonic. Once again, the more vigorous movements stand out, particularly the rollicking Scherzo in the Schumann. But the first movement has a nice Beethovenian verve to it that I quite enjoyed. Few compositions are as dramatic as the opening of Shostakovitch's Fifth Symphony, with its alternately rising and falling leaps of a sixth. Bernstein gives this the determined and driving force that it requires, and it has all the gut-punching impact that the score requires. At the same time, the flute solo is presented with remarkable delicacy. The more frivolous center movements have a nice liveliness, with the lurching second movement recalling Stravinsky's Petrouchka. On the more sensitive side is the Disc 7 performance of the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony ("Pathetique"). Written just before the composer's suicide, the two outer movements are extraordinarily morbid (the dismal key of B minor certainly indicates severe depression), while the middle movements are delightful and hopeful. The audience is so moved by the rendition of the third movement march that they make a rare interruption to applaud right then and there. The entire performance, with the Israel Philharmonic in Berlin, is certainly first-rate.

The last two discs are devoted to the conductor leading his own compositions. The Hebrew recitations in Chichester Psalms are beautifully textured, with the jerky orchestral rhythms providing a contrast for the flowing lyrical voices. His First "Jeremaiah" Symphony continues the Biblical theme, with Christa Ludwig appearing to contribute the Lamentations with their darkly apocalyptic mutterings. The Second Symphony, "The Age of Anxiety," belies its title by its profound sense of weariness. Lukas Foss is the pianist for this performance, tackling the monumentally difficult score with panache. The final disc presents a performance of Bernstein's short (44m:28s) Gershwinesque comic opera, Trouble in Tahiti. It's an interesting production of this satire of suburban life, with animated interludes and backdrops for some sequences. Nancy Williams and Julian Patrick are the leads, Dinah and Sam, discontented with their married lives and not entirely aware that they're longing for something better than their materialism. The highlight is Dinah's marvelous narration of the title movie, and Williams gives it a fun vivaciousness that's quite infectious. It puts a nice bow on top of a packed collection.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Most if not all of these concerts were apparently shot on videotape. Artifacting and video noise are prevalent. At times, colors are rather unstable, but on the whole black levels are quite acceptable. It's watchable, but the attraction here really isn't the visuals in any event.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(music only)yes
Dolby Digital
(music only)yes

Audio Transfer Review: Both 2.0 and 5.1 remixes are included, and both sound fine. There are again source limitations such as mild noise and hiss, and some of the earlier performances are a shade shrill, but on the whole it's quite acceptable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 95 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
9 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The principal extra (and indeed only extra other than the illustrated booklet listing the participants and the chapter stops) is a 1970 documentary on Beethoven for the bicentennial. It includes not only a biography, but extensive footage of rehearsals and excerpts from Bernstein's performance of Fidelio, including much of the second act. It's quite substantial, clocking in at an hour and 20 minutes, and any Beethoven lover will find it highly engaging. Some subtitles would certainly have been welcome on the vocal works, but none are supplied.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Although the source materials have their limitations, there's not disputing that this is a collection of great performances of timeless classics. Very highly recommended.


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