Jeremy Lee writes
I will start this review with a bold statement: of all the oft-recorded conductors that have ever lived, no-one has had such a high proportion of great musicianship, great playing and great sonics in their discography than Leonard Bernstein on Deutsche Grammophon. This is particularly remarkable given the length of time that Bernstein was signed to the Yellow Label (more than 10 years) and the remarkably wide range of orchestras and halls that Bernstein recorded with and in—in Vienna, Britain, USA, Germany, France, Italy and Israel, among others, and yet I challenge you to list out more than ten Bernstein/DG recordings that didn’t contain all three of those elements. Of the great conductors with a large discography certainly Karajan, Abbado, Solti, Haitink, Chailly, Ozawa, Boulez, Previn, Davis, Maazel, Rattle–the list goes on and on–can’t take this claim. In terms of proportion of great performances and sonics to size of discography you might say Carlos Kleiber tops Bernstein, but Kleiber’s discography is minuscule. Another conductor that came to mind is Celibidache on EMI but a) his recordings aren’t exactly “official” and b) Celi did produce quite a few not-so-great recordings, and yet another is Blomstedt on Decca–he basically never made a bad recording at all and Decca’s team of engineers were very supportive–but the majority of his recordings are just merely very good, not what I consider “great”.
To me, greatness requires a spark of inspiration and spirit in addition to genuine musicality, and that is exactly what Bernstein possess that made him stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Of course, Bernstein as a conductor had this unique quality to inspire and galvanise both orchestra and audience even in his earliest recordings on Sony, but more often than not the Sony engineers weren’t very cooperative, to say the least. (Some of the very worst recordings (I mean sonically) ever made came from Bernstein/Sony.) The vast majority of Bernstein’s recordings on DG, on the other hand, are absolutely audiophile, but more importantly, Bernstein’s late remakes (and they were mostly remakes of repertoire already done on Sony) intensified this already blazing inspiration to unbelievable extents. His ultra-romantic interpretations of heart-on-sleeve intensity were completely at odds with the cool-headed clarity of a Boulez, the honest and understated musicality of a Haitink (or Blomstedt), and the sinewy sound-world and cerebral scholarship of the historically-informed performance movement that started around Bernstein’s late period (the early 80s). (Bernstein said about performing Beethoven rather prophetically (or not, depending on when he said so): “When I conduct Beethoven, I don’t care whether I conduct the way Beethoven would have conducted. What’s important is that I’m convinced that what I’ve done is in the spirit of Beethoven, even if I know that Beethoven would have done it differently”.) For this reason, Bernstein has attracted criticism for over-inflating some of the works, but his fans love him for exactly the same reason: the daring and emotionality that places him in a pantheon that few other conductors have been able to reach (occasionally Tennstedt was an example especially in his live recordings, but his studio recordings were often uninspiring).
Onto the product packaging: in a massive LP-sized box, DG has compiled what is the first of two volumes dedicated to the complete recordings of this genius conductor on the label. This first volume, sorted alphabetically, contains the recordings from Beethoven to Liszt, by way of Bernstein, Brahms, Copland, Elgar, Haydn and Ives. The discs–59 of them plus one DVD (The Making of West Side Story)–are bound together in stacks of four, and the cardboard sleeves bear the original album art. A large booklet, containing a touching foreword by daughter Jamie Bernstein and informative essays by Nigel Simeone and Humphrey Burton (but no sung texts), completes the limited edition set. The price (about $1300-1700 HKD, depending on your retailer) is quite reasonable for such a deluxe gargantuan.
Beethoven (CDs 1-16)
Bernstein undoubtedly was a major Beethovenian and recorded most of his major orchestral works. That’s a lot of music, so let’s start with the justly famous cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic dating from the late 1970s. Here are generally standard and highly energetic interpretations, nothing especially provoking or idiosyncratic going on here, which has led some reviewers to feel that Bernstein was tame in Beethoven. Quite the opposite: despite the lack of neurotics, Bernstein invests the music with lots of spirit and gusto, revealing Beethoven’s sunnier and kinetic side rather than the tormented and conflicted facet that performers as diverse as Kleiber, Klemperer, Barenboim and Furtwangler bring out. The Vienna Philharmonic plays splendidly (as it always does in Beethoven), and though some performances may lack ideal lightness, bounce or charm (the early two symphonies and 8th), the rest blaze with plenty of heroic and spiritual intensity. I consider the 9th to be the best of the set: not only is it impeccably sung (with the exception of the always strange-sounding Hanna Schwarz) and enormously thrilling (the race to the finish has never been executed so speedily and joyously), it also bears all the momentousness and sense of occasion of his later Berlin wall performance with none of the idiosyncrasies. Sonically it is also better than the Berlin performance, and even the rest of the Vienna cycle.
Bernstein also recorded quite a number of one-off Beethoven symphonies. The 5th with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (an Amnesty International charity concert) was recorded only a year before the Vienna performance, yet it bears an extra ounce of intensity and struggle that I prefer. The Berlin 9th, a concert celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, is a controversial affair, with many complaining that it is simply too bloated and slow (and I concur—that is why I mentioned that the Vienna performance is preferable). The 7th with the Boston Symphony (Bernstein’s last recording), a protracted, texturally clogged and murkily recorded performance, is a sad misfire by an ill-stricken man on his last legs. (More on the coupling in a later section.)
He also accompanied Krystian Zimerman in the 3rd to 5th piano concertos and Arrau in the 4th (the latter derives from the same Amnesty concert as the 5th symphony). Bernstein rides shotgun in both instances; it seems that he is more than happy to let the pianists’ vision of the music dominate more than his own, which shows how supportive and sympathetic Bernstein was as an accompanist (unlike, many report, Karajan). Zimerman plays with spectacular clarity and evenness, offering a solid, luminous tone and straightforward yet deeply convincing interpretations, while Arrau offers quite a lot more rhetorical weight aided by his trademark upholstered, bass-oriented tone (the bass Ds about 1:10 into the finale resonate like deep bells)—in this respect the two pianists could not be more different. It seems that Bernstein has also noticed this and suited the orchestral sonority to that of the pianists’, for he conjures crisp and clear sonorities from the Vienna Philharmonic, while drawing a darker, more solid and imposing tone from the Bavarian RSO. In both cases DG’s sonics are impeccable.
Besides these, there’s a disc of overtures, whose merits are similar to that of the Vienna cycle (unsurprising since they were recorded almost contemporaneously) and the entire Fidelio, both with Vienna, an intense and dramatic Missa Solemnis with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and quite famously Bernstein’s own arrangements of string quartets 14 and 16 for string orchestra, performed here by the Vienna strings. Bernstein has referred to this particular record as his favorite of all his recordings; the alluring Vienna string sound and Bernstein’s warmly expressive direction won’t make you struggle to understand why.
Bernstein (CDs 17-32)
There’s been quite a lot of debate to whether the performances by a composer of his/her own works are necessarily the “best”. Of course, for any conductor to deliver a good performance, he has to have a certain vision of the music and proficient conducting skills (amongst other things), and if such a good conductor happens to be the composer as well, there’s an added authority to the interpretation that will make it stand out as one of the most convincing, if not the most convincing, interpretation there is. Richard Strauss, for example, was no doubt a great composer, but his recordings of his own works were mostly indifferently played and interpreted, while Igor Stravinsky was one of the most persuasive exponents of his own music. As to whether Bernstein was a great composer, some may have a few reservations, but as to whether he was a great conductor, for most I suppose there is no shadow of doubt. Thus it follows that, yes, Bernstein’s performances of his own works were often the best available (more on this later)—not that there has been much competition so far.
Which brings us to the matter of Bernstein as composer. Some of his works have been widely considered classics: his score for West Side Story, for example (and the resultant Symphonic Dances), and his operetta Candide, particularly the overture which has become an orchestral showpiece and staple for youth orchestras. Yet other works, particularly his concert works, have rarely been performed. For me some of his works are unjustly neglected, such as the lovely Divertimento for orchestra, or the fantastically jazzy Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, both of which are immediately accessible and instantaneously lovable. But there are other works whose idiom may take considerable time to get used to, such as Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”, and the Mass. At any rate, the textures, harmonies, melodies and idioms Bernstein employ in his compositions all point to a composer with considerable talent and imaginativeness.
Despite this some have expressed further doubts about Bernstein as a composer. One reviewer mentioned that a composition by Bernstein was just a huge melting pot of jazz, Jewish music and Copland (meaning contemporaneous American music); I will agree that Bernstein was not exactly the most inventive of composers, i.e. he did not invent a completely original style or voice in his compositions—some may use the word derivative. Yet I will say that Bernstein was one of the most ingenious composers: that he could fuse three completely different idioms together (okay, two) and call it his own is already in itself a considerable creative act. (And let it never be said that the great composers of the past never once “copied” from others’ idioms!) Of course, his versatility in composition also points to his American-Jewish roots, as well as his extroverted personality and extremely diverse and pluralistic fields of study and expertise (rarely has there been such a polymath, a Renaissance man, as Leonard Bernstein!). At any rate, even if Bernstein was not one of the “great” composers, the merits of his work are many, and most of them are just plain fun. As such I see no reason why anyone should avoid his works.
As to the performances: as I have explained above, they are mostly great. The Israel Philharmonic takes the lion’s share of this large body of works, playing like the world-class orchestra it has not always been (the percussion and brass pack considerable wallop), while the other pieces are assigned to a surprising variety of orchestras: the New York Philharmonic gets the enigmatic and abstract Dybbuk; the National Symphony Orchestra takes the eclectic Songfest, based on American poems; the Vienna Philharmonic surprises with a bright, brash and disarmingly idiomatic rendition of the Prelude, Fugue and Riffs starring principal clarinet Peter Schmidl; Los Angeles delivers an intense and boisterous Symphonic Dances, yielding little to the famous New York Philharmonic recording on Sony; the London Symphony gives us a raunchy, gung-ho Candide with both Jerry Hadley and June Anderson in their prime; only the ORF Orchestra (a.k.a. Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra) slightly disappoints in A Quiet Place with indifferent orchestral response and an incredibly distant recording that sounds as if it was recorded from backstage. The famous West Side Story recording needs no introduction from me; suffice it to say that, while this writer also feels its demerits, its merits completely live up to the hype. DG has also rather considerately included the recordings of the two major Bernstein works that Bernstein did not live to record: Nagano’s A White House Cantata and Tilson Thomas’ On The Town, both with the London Symphony.
Bizet and other Frenchmen (CDs 33-34, 46, 49)
The Carmen included here was Bernstein’s first recording for DG, and the cast is starry indeed, with Marilyn Horne a seductive Carmen, James McCracken a huge-voiced Don José (some find him shouty), and a convincing if not particularly memorable Escamillo sung by Tom Krause. The MET orchestra and chorus play and sing very well respectively. On the other hand, Bernstein’s direction is heavy and monumental to the extreme, and the sonics, while basically clear and present, suffer from distortion whenever a full tutti is achieved. Not the most idiomatic Carmen around, but a very special one.
The Debussy La Mer, recorded with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra of Rome in 1989, strikes me as resembling less the outright kineticism and intensity of a Reiner than the relaxed, mysterious and spiritual experience that late Giulini and Celibidache gave us. But there the similarities between the two conductors end. Comparing to Giulini, Bernstein is more imaginative in terms of phrasing, showing that in his late years he could still bring flair to the music—thus the ebb and flow of the cello theme in De l’aube à midi sur la mer is masterfully and sensually handled; same goes to the central climax of the otherwise quite protracted Faun Prelude. But unlike Celibidache, Bernstein does not invest the climaxes with quite as much drama or energy, nor does he have that laser-like concentration and strong control over the orchestra’s texture and dynamics that sustained my attention from start to finish. (Suffice it to say that this was Bernstein’s first—and only—recorded concert appearance with the orchestra). Both in terms of sonics and playing Bernstein’s performance is generally very fine but less than world-class; the richness of the Munich strings and heaviness of their brass leaves an indelible impression that the Italian orchestra, no matter how technically proficient, struggles to achieve. Similar observations regarding the orchestra apply to the Images (which Celibidache also recorded), though this time round I find Bernstein’s interpretation slightly more cohesive and convincing.
The other French disc in this box contains Franck’s Symphony, Saint-Saens’s Le Rouet d’Omphale and Roussel’s Symphony No. 3. The Franck is a great version, with a soulful cor anglais solo in the second movement and a really blistering opening to the finale (the long timing points to the way he really takes his time on the lyrical sections). Yet it is obvious that the French National Orchestra’s playing, while technically proficient, is not particularly distinguished, with an underweight string section and characterless winds—for great playing you are referred to Giulini’s magisterial Vienna Philharmonic recording and Klemperer’s weighty Philharmonia rendition. The Saint-Saens and Roussel are not very popular on disc; Bernstein invests them with plenty of color, delicacy and vivacity. (Editor’s note: This disc is now available on Virtuoso at budget price.)
Brahms (CDs 35-41)
While Bernstein’s Beethoven was relatively straightforward, his Brahms symphony cycle was more in the style of what we usually refer to as “Bernstein’s late style”, which is to say deliberate, heavy, emotionally charged and larger-than-life. This caused a few major reviewers to feel that Bernstein was mismatched with Brahms, with one going as far to say that it was “dull and demented”. Subjectively I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, Bernstein views Brahms on a more emotive and ponderous scale than many other conductors (but most of the time not in any way significantly slower than the norm!), but I feel there’s nothing wrong with that. Quite on the contrary, this unprecedented heroic character (and tragedy, in the case of the 4th symphony) shines a completely distinctive light on Brahms, both the man and the music: revealing the greatly emotional soul behind the gruff exterior, and bringing out the wealth of moods behind the stringent symphonic argument and tightly-knit structures. Therefore the opening of the finale to the 1st symphony has rarely sounded more brooding, the horn calls welcoming and big-hearted; the 3rd is saturated with visceral drama; the 4th almost unbearably intense and moving in the coda of the opening and closing movements. Bernstein sees no hurry in the slow movements, but he sustains the melodic line very well, and the Vienna Philharmonic’s playing is absolutely ravishing. The same goes for the overtures and the Haydn Variations. While the finale of the 2nd is a bit clumsily handled, and the first and final movements of the 3rd are a bit lumbering and texturally clogged, those are about the only flaws I can point out in these beautifully played and recorded performances.
In the concertos Bernstein once again proves to be a sensitive accompanist, but this time in the piano concertos (also with Krystian Zimerman) I find the two to be slightly mismatched (this was not a feeling that I had with their Beethoven): while Zimerman’s playing is distinctively modern-style pianism: surgically clean, lean, and extremely sparsely pedaled, Bernstein’s accompaniment is old-school Brahms: lush and grand. These two very different styles have created somewhat of an anachronistic feeling to these ears: hearing the treacherous F-minor episode in the first movement of the 2nd concerto (bar 159 onwards) played by the piano and then built up to its climax with the orchestra (figure F) is like being transported from the future to the past in a blink of an eye. It’s very fascinating, yet also a bit strange. However it is impossible to lay similar criticisms with the Violin Concerto and Double Concerto performances: both Kremer and Maisky make perfect complements to Bernstein’s vigorous direction and the Vienna Philharmonic’s luxurious tone.
The Americans sans Bernstein (CDs 17, 24, 25, 43-45, 50, 57)
Bernstein’s authority on contemporary American music is unquestionable: he was one of its major proponents and made a whole generation of Europeans take it seriously, his own music was influenced greatly by it, he premiered many works of the type, and he befriended quite a number of its composers (Copland, Foss, etc.). There are so many works by so many different composers here (mainly Rorem, Del Tredici, Gershwin, Copland, Schuman, Foss, Ives and Harris) that I find it futile to describe the performances work by work; instead I will select a few performances (and works) that I identify with and return to the most.
The Gershwin with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on CD 17, coupled with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, features a relaxed and sentimental Rhapsody and Blue with Bernstein on the piano. Like Bernstein’s old New York Philharmonic recording he disembowels the work, linking the two piano cadenzas together; unlike the old one the orchestral response is much more alert and the piano is significantly better recorded (read: less woody-sounding). Bernstein slowly, soulfully and sassily plays the encore, Gershwin’s Second Prelude. As far as Gershwin’s Rhapsody goes I still prefer the sharpness and leanness of MTT’s New World Symphony recording but Bernstein’s way with the work is delightfully old school and deserves repeated hearing.
I don’t generally like Copland’s music, but I enjoy El Salon Mexico, and Bernstein plays the pants of the work. In both orchestral response and sonics Bernstein surpasses the classic Dorati recording on Mercury (the thwacks at around 5 and 11 minutes into the work makes an audiophile showstopper), but whether you prefer Bernstein’s more heavily inflected interpretation boils down to a matter of taste (it suits mine very well).
Ives, on the other hand, is probably my favorite American composer besides Bernstein and Gershwin, and Bernstein’s recordings of Symphony No. 2 have justly become classics (be it the premiere New York Philharmonic recording on Sony, this 1987 live recording with the same orchestra, or the video performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, also in 1987, complete with a touching address to the audience). More passionate than Schemerhorn/Nashville, more athletic than Ormandy/Philadelphia, more naturally recorded than Litton/Dallas and better played than Mehta/Los Angeles (and more amputated than any of them), Bernstein’s performance has virtually nothing to criticize. The timbral qualities of the New York Philharmonic itself are something to write home about (lush strings with lots of depth, brilliant woodwinds and brass and a matte-sounding horn section), and needless to say Bernstein enjoys himself tremendously.
Even if I haven’t completely come to terms with all the contemporary American music featured here, Bernstein’s performances are all nothing less than excellent, and no matter how many recordings of these works have subsequently appeared on the market Bernstein’s still deserve to be highly recommended.
Haydn (CDs 51-55)
Of all the composers, Bernstein was probably the closest to Haydn in terms of personality: outgoing, honest and bubbly. Bernstein had previously recorded 12 CDs worth of Haydn for Sony with the New York Philharmonic (this includes all the London and Paris symphonies plus No. 88); his Haydn recordings for DG have been concentrated into only 4 symphonies (88, 92, 94, 102), some masses, the oratorio The Creation, and a work new to his discography, the Sinfonia Concertante.
While the New York recordings of the symphonies strove for kineticism and directness, Bernstein’s Vienna remakes are more relaxed, warmer and sunnier, and for this reason very lovable. Cognoscenti and Bernstein fans will remember a memorable Bernstein non-conducting moment (the whole finale of the 88th), which sees him giving the tempo for the first few bars and then putting his hands at the back of his body, allowing only his facial expressions and grunts to signalize changes of mood and color to the players. As for the Sinfonia Concertante, it’s hard to decide between Bernstein’s geniality and darker-toned soloists and Abbado’s eloquent poetry and cleaner, more close-sounding recording—I recommend that you hear both.
Bernstein takes a magisterial view of The Creation, eschewing Solti’s at times blistering ferocity in favor of grandiosity and measuredness (Karajan’s is also grand but not as ponderous). In my opinion Bernstein’s soloists are tonally not as distinguished as either Solti’s or Karajan’s (Ruth Ziesak’s silvery tone and Gundula Janowitz’s solid gold one), but they sing with more emotion and involvement—none of the latter two’s impersonal perfection, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus’ dark, smooth sound is a delight. In the end I still prefer Solti’s more theatrical view, but Bernstein’s is never less than distinguished. The Paukenmesse is similarly more measured than his New York first recording, but it gains in intensity and grandeur what it may lack in sheer speed, and the Bavarians’ playing is something to die for (such a soulful cello solo in Qui Tollis!).
Everything else (CDs 16, 42, 47, 48, 56, 58, 59)
What we have in these remaining eight discs are some German, British, Czech, Italian and Hungarian music that occupy too small a volume of this box set in themselves that I thought it would be best to review them together.
CD16 contains Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, performed in the same concert (and on the same disc) as Bernstein’s valedictory Beethoven 7 with the Boston. To my ears the playing is less problematic to these ears but the transitions can be clumsy at times, and it is still badly recorded.
Bernstein never was fully convinced or comfortable with Bruckner’s idiom, and such he steered clear of most of Bruckner’s symphonies except the 9th, which he also recorded with the New York Philharmonic on Sony. (Henry Fogel, former president of the Chicago Symphony, notes his loathing of the 8th, which he nevertheless could memorize from heart and play it flawlessly back on the piano, and explain note for note why he disliked it.) This 9th with the Vienna Philharmonic on CD42 undoubtedly joins the list of great Vienna Bruckner Ninths (Mehta, Schuricht, Giulini, Abbado—almost amounting to the whole Vienna Bruckner 9 discography!). This is Bruckner taken personal: a highly wrenching, emotional and visceral approach that none of the previously mentioned conductors (and most other conductors, in fact) even begin to resemble. The slow tempi is used for further intensity everywhere, be it the sonic intensity of the gut-wrenching climaxes or the hushed intensity of the beautifully sustained melodic lines; in both instances the Vienna Philharmonic fully matches Bernstein’s approach, and the highly pronounced timbral qualities (sweet strings, buzzy horns and rock-solid timpani) is a joy.
With CD47 we come to one of two highly controversial and personal Bernstein interpretations included in this box, readings that even the most devoted Bernstein fan may find hard to accept, let alone love. This Dvorak 9 with the Israel Philharmonic is famous for its extremely slow Largo (18:30) and, like the New York first version, a very speedy Scherzo, balancing moderately slow first and last movements. Like the aforementioned Bruckner 9 Bernstein’s slowness makes for more intensity, but this time to me the Largo’s pace really bogs it down; not only are the Israel players unable to sustain the tempo convincingly (poor English Horn player!—though I doubt few other orchestras and their soloists can successfully sustain Bernstein’s pace), this interminability distorts Dvorak’s carefully planned symphonic architecture, making it seem like a massive pond of ditchwater between two craggy, magnificent peaks. That movement aside the symphony goes extremely well, with the Israel Philharmonic playing their hearts out, and this is all recorded in very good sound. The coupling, Slavonic Dances Op. 46 Nos. 1, 3 and 8, are more straightforward, but the peasants are dancing in clogs, not in sandals.
CD48 then immediately presents us with Highly Controversial Bernstein Interpretation No. 2, and of the two controversial bits of this performance of the Enigma Variations one is musical (the 6:11 Nimrod—twice as slow as many performances) and one is extra-musical (the fact that Bernstein insulted many of the BBC players by his behavior in the sessions; he was never re-engaged). Say what you like about that Nimrod (the BBCSO, a generally better orchestra than the Israel PO, is able to sustain the etiolated pace better than the IPO did with the Dvorak Largo—and I find it absolutely gorgeous), the rest of the performance is spontaneous, characterful and gruff. Bernstein here has the quality of a great actor in that he is able to switch between characters and personalities (and there is a different personality in each variation) effortlessly, and manages to bring the character to life idiomatically and authentically. Thus (to mention a few variations) the theme is sweet with a tinge of melancholy; W.M.B, Troyte and G.R.S bubble with ebullience, and the final variation (referring to Elgar himself) is grand and self-glorifying beyond compare, with a blazing organ. The two Pomp and Circumstance marches (1 and 2) are totally idiomatic—great performances in themselves. No matter how much the BBC players suffered (mentally not physically) they play excellently for Bernstein.
The remaining performances need little accounting for; they are suitably legendary. The Hindemith program with the Israel Philharmonic has rarely sported the orchestra in such an alert and inspired form, while Bernstein fully epitomizes the intense Faustian struggle and spiritual trajectory in the Liszt (with generally slower tempi than the norm), with a fantastic Boston Symphony at his beck and call (this particular recording has been reissued on Originals). The original LP of the Liszt was coupled with a performance of the prologue of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, and it reappears that way in this original jacket collection. Bernstein conducts a beautiful performance, especially haunting in the last section, with the Vienna Philharmonic sounding ravishing as always and surprisingly enthusiastic in such obscure repertoire as this. The sonics are a bit distant and reverbrant, but this serves to enhance the “heavenliness” of the music. The set concludes with a lovely DVD document of Bernstein’s rehearsal and preparations of his West Side Story recording, which sees the maestro at his most charismatic (and at times mercurial) form.
I believe enough ink has been shed on the Maestro’s greatness as an artist, so all I have left to say is that this beautifully presented box is an essential purchase if you are a fan of Bernstein, and even if you aren’t you can safely invest in this box knowing that you will be treated to countless hours of great performances and listening pleasure. I look forward to the second volume, due in 2015, with baited breath.
- Album name: The Leonard Bernstein Collection, Vol. 1
- Performers (not exhaustive):
- Vocalists, in alphabetical order: Claes-Hakon Ahnsjo; June Anderson; Judith Blegen; Montserrat Caballe; Jose Carreras; Tyne Daly; Brigitte Fassbaender; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Nicolai Gedda; Nicolai Ghiaurov; Adolph Green; Jerry Hadley; Thomas Hampson; Barbara Hendricks; Marilyn Horne; Gundula Janowitz; Gwyneth Jones; Rene Kollo; Klaus Konig; Tom Krause; Christa Ludwig; James McCracken; Marie McLaughlin; Kurt Moll; Thomas Moser; Kurt Ollmann; Lucia Popp; Samuel Ramey; Kenneth Riegel; Jan-Hendrik Rootering; Hanna Schwarz; Hans Sotin; Frederica von Stade; Kiri Te Kanawa; Tatiana Troyanos; Sarah Walker
- Instrumental soloists, in alphabetical order: Claudio Arrau; Stanley Drucker; Lukas Foss; Gidon Kremer; Mischa Maisky; Jean-Pierre Rampal; Mstislav Rostropovich; Peter Schmidl; Krystian Zimerman
- Conductors: Leonard Bernstein; Kent Nagano; Michael Tilson Thomas
- Orchestras: Wiener Philharmoniker; Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; New York Philharmonic; London Symphony Orchestra; Chor & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; National Symphony Orchestra; ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Orchestre National de France; Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
- Works included:
- Barber: Adagio for Strings
- Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 (No. 5, 7, and 9 two performances); Overtures (Leonore III two performances); Piano Concertos Nos. 3-5 (No. 4 two performances); String Quartets Nos. 14 & 16 (arranged for string orchestra); Missa solemnis; Fidelio
- Bernstein: Symphonies Nos. 1-3; Serenade; Fancy Free; Dybbuk Suites Nos. 1 & 2; Songfest; Divertimento; A Musical Toast; Slava!; On the Town: 3 Dance Episodes; Facsimile; Halil; Mass: 3 Meditations; On the Waterfont: Symphonic Suite; Prelude, Fugue and Riffs; West Side Story: Symphonic Dances; Concerto for Orchestra “Jubilee Games”; On the Town; Candide; Candide Overture; West Side Story; A Quiet Place; A White House Cantata
- Bizet: Carmen
- Boito: Mefistofele: Prologo in cielo
- Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Haydn Variations; Academic Festival and Tragic Overtures; Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Violin Concerto; Double Concerto
- Britten: Four Sea Interludes
- Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
- Copland: Appalachian Spring; Symphony No. 3; Quiet City; El Salon Mexico; Connotations; Music for the Theatre; Clarinet Concerto
- Debussy: La Mer; Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune; Images
- Del Tredici: Tattoo
- Dvorak: Symphony No. 9; 3 Slavonic Dances
- Elgar: Enigma Variations; Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos. 1 & 2; March of the Mogul Emperors
- Foss: The Song of Songs
- Franck: Symphony in D minor
- Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Prelude No. 2
- Harris: Symphony No. 3
- Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 88, 92, 94 & 102; Sinfonia concertante; Die Schopfung; Missa in tempore belli
- Hindemith: Mathis der Maler; Symphonic Metamorphoses; Concert Music for Strings and Brass
- Ives: Symphony No. 2; Central Park in the Dark; The Unanswered Question; Tone Roads No. 1; Hymn; Hallowe’en; The Gong on the Hook and Ladder
- Liszt: A Faust Symphony
- Rorem: Violin Concerto
- Roussel: Symphony No. 3
- Saint-Saens: Le Rouet d’Omphale
- Schuman: American Festival Overture; Symphony No. 3
- Bonus DVD: The Making of West Side Story
- Label: Decca 478 6360
- No. of discs: 36
- Sonics: Stereo ADD/DDD