"On Disc - Best of All Possible Bernstein"
The New York Times, September 12, 2008
Here's the latest of those occasional Times CD roundups that I've always enjoyed reading, and now have the privilege of helping to create. The mandate was to choose five discs -- or, more properly, "releases," which let Allan Kozinn get away with picking the Young People's Concerts DVD box set. At least one was to represent Bernstein the composer; some chose more.
For me, the first half of the assignment was the harder part, naturally; there were so many outstanding recordings to choose from, including some items currently out of print and a few that have yet to appear on CD. The Columbia recordings of Shostakovich's Fifth and Ninth Symphonies (now on Sony CD); the Roy Harris Third, Randall Thompson Second and David Diamond Fourth, also from Columbia (ditto); the Nielsen Fifth (last seen in a Sony "Royal Edition" release with a Prince Charles watercolor on the cover, now available on demand from ArkivMusic) -- these were some of the very honorable mentions that ultimately didn't make the cut.
As for Bernstein the composer, I ignored the notion of "greatness" and picked a set with the Bernstein pieces that I heard -- and just as importantly, performed -- first. Ultimately they're the ones responsible for winning me over in the first place, and they're still excellent introductory splashes.
So, here are my picks; if you read the Times article online, my essay starts on the third page. I've noticed that ArkivMusic has already compiled a handy sale page including almost all of the Times picks -- though the Mahler Fifth to which that page points is not the lower-priced "Grand Prix" reissue I specified, which is 50 cents cheaper. I've included direct ArkivMusic and Barnes & Noble links for my picks (including the correct Mahler) below.
I'm sure that everyone reading this will have Bernstein picks of his or her own, favorites that weren't mentioned by any of the contributors to the Times piece. Tell me about yours in the comments section.