Leonard Bernstein - Leonard Bernstein Conducts Bach and Stravinsky

Published Sunday 23rd October 2011
Leonard Bernstein - Leonard Bernstein Conducts Bach and Stravinsky
Leonard Bernstein - Leonard Bernstein Conducts Bach and Stravinsky

STYLE: Choral
RATING 6 6 6 6 6 6
LABEL: Classic Archive
FORMAT: DVD Music video

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

Before we praise this recording we need to issue some warnings. First, the cover. It is right that we should never judge any release by its cover and this DVD is a case in point. The black and white picture has Leonard Bernstein in action in his shirt-sleeves, face raised in ecstasy, white hair thrown back, truly the charismatic conductor in full flight. But when we watch the film (which is in colour, by the way), Bernstein is much more restrained. He keeps his jacket on, for a start, and although his conducting is always engaged and often lively he is much more formal than the cover art leads us to expect - which is no bad thing, as it allows the music to speak for itself. Second warning: this presentation lasts 54 minutes with just a few trailers as bonus material and so is not very good value. The DVD presents a unique chance to see Bernstein conducting Bach's Magnificat (BVW 243) and Stravinsky's Mass. Recorded in 1977 in Saint Augustine's Church, London, it is an intimate and moving recording, presenting two of the most important pieces in the choral repertoire. Bernstein is joined by the distinguished soloists Anny Mory, Patricia Parker, Rodney Hardesty, John Mitchinson and Paul Hudson, accompanied by the English Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra. I struggle to see how the two pieces fit together, other than showing us how to great and innovative composers from very different times and backgrounds approach traditional church music. The performances are strong but the visual approach is dated - which is fair enough, given that it is from 1977. Once we get beyond the fashions and hairstyles, the filming techniques are limited by the cumbersome cameras so we have only a limited range of shots. Bernstein, even when on a tight rein, is always worth watching and his many admirers will be glad to pay to see him in action. For the more general listener - and viewer - this is not worth the asking price.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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