Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Leonard Bernstein's New York Philharmonic Debut (1996)


Bernstein was famously thrust into stardom when he took over for conductor Bruno Walter at the last minute on November 14, 1943 in Carnegie Hall. This CD was remastered using acetate discs as source material. These discs had been recorded to send overseas to the troops, so the sound reproduction is not good, but that's not what this disc is about. This is a historical artifact. The concert was broadcast over CBS radio and that broadcast is what he have here. It's fun to hear the radio announcer and the ads for the United States Rubber Company (which would later become Uniroyal). Also, the excellent liner notes are quite extensive with recollections of the concert from Bernstein's brother and orchestra musicians.

Tracks: The concert begins with the National Anthem. I've been to a few concerts where this has happened, but what I noticed immediately on this recording is that the entire audience seems to be singing. This could be because the nation was at war at the time, which always brings about feelings of national pride. One of the things that strikes me is the contemporary nature of the music. The three pieces date from 1849, 1933, and 1897 - all within 100 years of the date of the concert. Schumann's Manfred Overture is a nice dark piece and performed well here. I was unfamiliar with Theme, Variations and Finale by Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa, probably because I think of him as a film composer. This sounds like film music from the time because the variations are very brief, like they were written for different movie scenes. A forgettable piece, but I appreciate the fact that this orchestra was promoting new music. Don Quixote is probably the most enjoyable of all the Strauss tone poems, with solo cello playing the role of Don Quixote. This piece is the highlight of the disc. The historic concert ended with Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger, but because of time limitations, CBS radio did not broadcast the piece, so it was not recorded and couldn't be included here.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: When this CD became available, I immediately purchased two copies and had one of them sent one to my good friend Eddie, who is probably a bigger Bernstein fan than I am. We listened to the CDs then talked on the phone like giddy school girls. The music isn't necessarily that great and the recording is often distorted at times, but you can still hear the genius coming through. Hard to believe Bernstein was only 25 years old at the time.

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