Leonard Bernstein Conducts Stravinsky

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STRAVINSKY Le Sacre du printemps. Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra 1. Symphony of Psalms 2 • Leonard Bernstein, cond; London SO; Michel Béroff (pn); 1...

STRAVINSKY Le Sacre du printemps. Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra 1. Symphony of Psalms 2 Leonard Bernstein, cond; London SO; Michel Béroff (pn); 1 English Bach Festival Ch 2 ICA 5124 (DVD: 82:00) Live: Royal Albert Hall, London 4/8/1972.

The first few days of April 1972 were busy ones for Maestro Bernstein. On April 5 he recorded The Rite of Spring in the then-trendy Quadrophonic format with the London Symphony for Columbia Records, followed that two days later with a recording of the Symphony of Psalms , and on April 8 performed this concert in memory of Stravinsky on the one-year anniversary of his passing. One might expect, given the special nature of the circumstances and Bernstein’s often-theatrical impulses, that certain expressive liberties would be taken by the conductor, but in fact these performances are nearly identical in timing with their corresponding studio counterparts—in timing, perhaps, but not necessarily in effect. I have always liked his studio recording of the Symphony of Psalms , and this concert version comes close to recreating its solemnity and power. Especially in the closing movement, his exquisite pacing emphasizes the music’s reverence, and you can read the commitment in his face. As for The Rite of Spring , Bernstein left three studio recordings (NY Phil in 1958, the LSO, and Israel Philharmonic in 1982) which got progressively slower. The LSO account is my least favorite, but this live performance is riveting. Bernstein’s level of engagement here translates into orchestral intensity—there’s no holding back the brass and percussion, and the opening of Part Two is magical. After years of taking The Rite for granted, this is one of those performances that reminds us just how remarkable Stravinsky’s achievement is. Alas, the Capriccio does not reach such exalted heights; it is a lesser and somewhat schizophrenic piece after all, and the microphone placement does the piano no favors, losing details now and then. Alongside Bernstein, who seems to view the music as a conflation of Bach, Ravel, and Gershwin, Michel Béroff injects the solo role with more steel and thus creates more sparks than he did six months earlier in the studio with Seiji Ozawa (EMI).

Watching Bernstein at work, we can see how he uses not just his hand gestures—which range from swashbuckling to serene—but his shoulders, eyes, even his eyebrows, to inspire the orchestra. But Humphrey Burton, the director, does not focus solely on the conductor; the camera follows the flow of the music, from instrument to instrument, section to section, in a most revealing manner. Apparently the original film required some restoration by the BBC television archive; nevertheless the picture quality is fine, save for a few brief points in the Symphony of Psalms where deterioration required the insertion of still frames or a momentary view of the score. There are no added special features—no interviews, no documentary footage—but none are needed. The producers no doubt took their cue from Bernstein, who, immediately after the closing notes of the Symphony of Psalms died away, left the stage before the audience could applaud. The music is enough.

FANFARE: Art Lange

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 25, 2014

  • UPC: 5060244551244

  • Catalog Number: ICAD5124

  • Label: ICA Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Igor Stravinsky

  • Conductor: Leonard Bernstein

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: English Bach Festival Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Michel Béroff