Classical Album of the Week: Leonard Bernstein's Greatest Recordings

Aug 20, 2018

August 20, 2018. Our featured album is not one, but a trove of sixteen albums in a box set called This is Leonard Bernstein: His Greatest Recordings. Released for the 100th birthday celebration of America’s most multifaceted musical genius, this carefully curated collection reveals Bernstein as conductor, composer, and pianist.

The music presented here ranges from Haydn to Bernstein, with quite a few surprises along the way.

In The Joy of Music, Bernstein wrote, “Beethoven broke all the rules and turned out pieces of breathtaking rightness.” It’s no wonder then that Beethoven’s works usher in the first three CDs of the set.  Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in the Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”), in an album of Beethoven overtures, and the Piano Concertos No. 3 and No. 5 (“Emperor”), with Rudolf Serkin as soloist.

As if to emphasize the seriousness of his own concert music, Bernstein's “Age of Anxiety,” Symphony No. 2, and his Serenade, after Plato’s “Symposium,” follow Beethoven.

Nothing about Leonard Bernstein can be pigeonholed. His popular theater music shows up in the next discs.  There’s the original cast recording of West Side Story, made shortly after the musical’s premier on Broadway. We also hear the original cast recording of Candide, his comic operetta.

Bernstein’s identification with Gustav Mahler, as fellow conductor/composer, is evident in a monumental performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the New York Philharmonic.

He also explores Mahler in a more intimate way as well—as pianist accompanying baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder,” in “Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit,” and in “Leider eines fahrenden Gesellen.”

As a piano soloist, he performs with with freshness and brilliance in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and in Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 15 and No. 17.

We experience the extraordinary versatility of his conducting in repertoire as diverse as Haydn's symphonies, Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” and the music of his mentor Aaron Copland. He champions the work of Carl Nielsen in the Danish composer’s Symphonies No. 3 and No. 5.

If this seems mind-boggling, it only proves the astonishing breadth and range of his musical passions. Bernstein recorded over 200 albums throughout his career. 

This is Leonard Bernstein: His Greatest Recordings, with reproductions of original LP artwork and complete recording information, showcases some of the most essential, and enjoyable, highlights of a remarkable career.

This week only, when you contribute at the $365 gift level, we'll thank you with This is Leonard Bernstein: His Greatest Recordings, a 16-CD special edition of Bernstein's American Columbia recordings from the 1950s and 1960s.  (This is an unprecedented offer on a superb CD set that lasts only until 6 pm on Saturday.)  Contribute now!