Sunday, August 2, 2009


Late in his career, Leonard Bernstein returned to the greatest orchestral work by his lifelong friend, Aaron Copland, with a performance that eclipsed all others, including Bernstein's own previous recording of the Symphony no. 3 on Sony. Though Copland's stock still hadn't climbed back to its present height, Bernstein gave the music a grandeur that made you forget how much of a cliché the Fanfare for the Common Man--which was worked into the finale of the Third--can be. In fact, many of the world-stopping qualities Bernstein brought to his second Mahler cycle for Deutsche Grammophon seem much in evidence here, with the New York Philharmonic playing as though its collective life depended on it. David Patrick Stearns

Did they love each other? Did they hate each other? Did they respect each other? Yes, all of the above and apparently all at the same time. Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were without a doubt the two most popular American composers of serious music in the twentieth century -- Gershwin's music is too much fun to be serious -- and their relationship was long and deep and filled with so many conflicting emotions as to be almost beyond comprehension, much less explication. But one thing is sure: Bernstein's recordings of Copland's music are almost unbearably exciting. His 1986 recording of Copland's Symphony No. 3 with the New York Philharmonic is the most intensely expressive and overwhelmingly emotional performance of the work ever recorded. Bernstein's conducting is ecstatically lyrical, deeply dramatic, profoundly rhetorical, and so massively monumental that the music itself all but disappears. Indeed, Bernstein's Copland's Third might sound to some listeners too much like Bernstein's Third -- a little restraint and a soupçon of dignity might not have been out of place -- but there's no denying the effectiveness of Bernstein's conducting. The New York Philharmonic plays with power, precision, and panache. Deutsche Grammophon's early digital sound is big and loud, but a bit empty. James Leonard

Symphony No. 3 (1944-46)
1. I. Molto moderato (11:01)
2. II. Allegro molto (8:04)
3. III. Andantino quasi allegretto (10:20)
4. IV. Molto deliberato (Fanfare) - Allegro risoluto (13:54)

5. Quiet City (1939) (10:35)

Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic
Recorded December, 1985 at Avery Fisher Hall, New York City