Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. His music was an eclectic mix of theatre music, jazz and neoclassicism. This diverse Modern period composer created works in virtually all genres. As already stated, Bernstein was an eclectic composer whose music fused elements of jazz, theatre music and neoclassicism, the latter inspired by composers like Copland, Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Gershwin. Some of his works, especially his score for West Side Story, helped bridge the gap between classical and popular music.
Shostakovich's two Piano Concertos lack the seriousness of this four concertos for violin or cello. The first is actually a "double" concerto, having an important part for solo trumpet. It's an early but expertly written work sharing the same musical climate as the First Symphony. The Second Concerto was created for the composer's son Maxim, now a well-known conductor. It's a light- hearted, tongue-in-cheek piece with a Romantic slow movement.
This recording follows on a successful reading by the same forces of Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish") of 1963. You can see why they started with the later work first, although the 1965 revision of the Symphony No. 2 ("The Age of Anxiety") actually postdates the earlier-numbered work. All three works share a common theme, namely the crisis of faith, but the oratorio-like "Kaddish" Symphony has a dramatic quality that makes its concerns explicitly.
The circumstances surrounding this April 6, 1962 concert at Carnegie Hall are as legendary as the performance itself. Pianist Gould desired to play the piece at a slower-than-usual tempo, Bernstein (who was conducting the New York Philharmonic) did not. Gould prevailed, but Bernstein shared his disavowal in an infamous pre-concert speech to the audience. This CD-the concert recording's first authorized release-includes Bernstein's speech, the complete performance and a revealing Glen Gould interview recorded two years later.
It is all too easy to take Gustav Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs for granted in the 21st century's first decade. More than ever before, concert performances and recordings of these works abound, and at a level of proficiency that reveals the remarkable extent to which musicians worldwide have assimilated the composer's idiom. Given the music's primacy in today's central orchestral repertoire, we forget how the great Mahler advocates of the past had to champion his music in the face of adversity. "Who can bear those monstrous symphonies, those over-blown, out-of-date horrors," asked one leading music critic when the New York Philharmonic launched a Mahler Festival to celebrate the composer's 1960 centenary.