Throughout the 1970s, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein was invited to lead the greatest orchestras of the world in a number of concerts that since such time have become legendary. Now, these historic performances are available on DVD for the first time. This Leonard Bernstein collectors's boxed set is the ultimate concert experience on DVD, and it is also the perfect companion to the Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts DVD set.
To celebrate Leonard Bernstein's 90th birthday, Deutsche Grammophon has issued a number of musically and historically important performances on DVD. These DVDs document the astonishing talent and virtuosity of Bernstein in a variety of works. The concerts are taken from the 1970s and 1980s and many include Bernstein's educational introductions to the pieces. His invaluable ability to communicate music and teach the general public still astounds as much as his energy and skill on the podium.
If what you want is a crackerjack coupling of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and his First Piano Concerto, this disc is the one to get. With the ardently noble 1971 Nathan Milstein recording of the Violin Concerto with Claudio Abbado conducting the Vienna Philharmonic joined to the recklessly passionate 1973 Martha Argerich recording of the Piano Concerto with Charles Dutoit conducting the Royal Philharmonic, both performances are easily as good as the very best ever recorded.
P. I. Tchaikovsky is considered to be Russia’s great symphonic composer. In his music he achieved a synthesis of the national musical language of Russia and the compositional forms of the western European Romantics. His most famous ballets enjoy a position of honor in the Classical Ballet repertoire on account of their melodic intensity and instrumental brilliance. In the fairy tale “The Nutcracker and the King of the Mice” written by the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann and published in 1814, on which Tchaikovsky’s ballet is based, Christmas provides the realistic setting for a fantastic plot. Fiction and reality are woven together by means of strange and wondrous occurrences to produce a fascinating and unfathomable labyrinth. Both Hoffmann and Tchaikovsky, who began to compose the ballet in his fiftieth year, could identify with the literary figure of the watchmaker Drosselmeier, who gives order to his life through his work. In 1999, exactly 107 years – to the day – after the first performance in St. Petersburg, Patrice Bart’s choreography of Tchaikovsky’s worldwide success The Nutcracker was premiered at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. Bart placed a prologue before the ballet in which Marie is abducted as a child and in which everything is placed in a modern context.
This well recorded disc from 1985 delivers impressive readings of both of these works. Mullova takes a very individual view of these concertos and has the technical assurance to communicate her view with compelling certainty.
The Tchaikovsky concerto is played in the full uncut version that was written by the composer. This is now becoming more common but in 1985 was still unusual enough to warrant comment. By playing the notes as Tchaikovsky had intended Mullova signals a very serious intent which she carries out throughout these two concertos.
This version of The Queen of Spades was originally recorded in 1974 and made available as a special import; it was then generally released by Philips in 1988. Reviewing it at the time, AB gave a level account of its strengths, but had little difficulty in preferring the Tchakarov set when it was issued in 1990. Deleted by Philips, the Ermler performance has now been restored to the Melodiya catalogue. I cannot see anyone dissenting from AB's view: certainly I do not, except perhaps to regard him as being over-generous in his account of Atlantov's Herman in calling it ''loud and unsubtle''. Stronger words would also be appropriate, especially when Atlantov is compared with the sensitive Wieslaw Ochman on the Tchakarov set. Valentina Levko is a good Countess in what is a well-established Russian tradition of responses to the role: AB thought the old lady's reminiscences not so pointedly delivered as by some other singers, and I would add that she would certainly have acquired a better French accent during her long sojourn as the Venus of Paris.