This 16-disc set contains what is without a doubt the most distinguished collection of Mahler performances ever to have been assembled in one place. DG has sensibly collected all of Bernstein's Mahler for Polygram labels, including the London "Das Lied von der Erde," and all of the orchestral song cycles: "Song of a Wayfarer," "Kindertotenlieder," "Rückert-Lieder," and "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." All of these recordings have been issued separately to general critical acclaim, and despite a veritable warehouse of new Mahler discs in the '90s, Bernstein's versions by and large still reign supreme.
While not technically awful, Jascha Heifetz's 1955 recording of Brahms' Violin Concerto with Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony is still close to unbearable. By 1955, Heifetz's once sinewy tone had tightened, his once supple technique had hardened, and his once warm interpretation had grown cold. With the never sinewy, supple, or warm Fritz Reiner, Heifetz creates a performance of Brahms' lyrical masterpiece that grates on the sensibilities.
2018 brings the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (born on August 25th, 1918), one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century.
When I first put this disc in the player, I wondered if I would really enjoy it. I had just listened to a performance of the Tchaikovsky played by Sviatoslav Richter accompanied by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgeny Mravinsky. Obviously, the first characteristic was a vast improvement in the recording quality over the mono Russian recording (Leningrad, 1957). As the new disc got underway I was very pleasantly surprised, as André Watts, although not Richter, gave a very proficient and exciting reading.
Leonard Bernstein was both a brilliant orchestrator and a gifted tunesmith, and his lyrics, often penned by Stephen Sondheim, are memorable, razor sharp and brilliantly apposite. West Side Story, Candide and On the Town have taken their rightful places at the top of Bernstein's creative canon; Now, as part of Deutsche Grammophon’s celebrations of his centenary, the best-loved numbers from these Broadway shows are brought together in one indispensable collection.
What makes these performances stand out is Ott's thoughtful approach to both concertos, eschewing empty display and bringing weight, detail and a range of colours to the solo parts.