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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bernstein's Copland 3rd at Tanglewood, 1990

I don't know how long this site will be active, but the Boston Symphony has posted a series of broadcast recordings from Tanglewood. One bit of essential listening (week 8, selection number 6) , from August 18, 1990, is Leonard Bernstein's penultimate performance a mere 57 days before his death, of Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3. Copland would die on December 2.

The Sunday afternoon BSO concert would be his last. It was released by Deutshce Grammophon with great and somber fanfare, and it's, you know, good and all, but this performance from Saturday night should be the bang he's remembered for going out with. It was quite well regarded at the time.

While Bernstein's 1966 recording with the New York Philharmonic is probably still, for me at least, the benchmark recording of this symphony, this recording with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra is something special. Perhaps it's the combination of the student orchestra and a conductor who had to have known he didn't have much time left. Bernstein eschews the too slow tempi which mar many of his performances from this period, except for the climax of the last movement, but who could blame him for wanting to drag out a moment like that. There's some unsure playing and a couple of transitions could have gone more smoothly, and no one should fault intonation at an outdoor concert on a hot August night, but this is some inspired and committed music making.

As for the rest of the series, I haven't gotten a chance to check them out. Week 6 looks interesting with some opera features, complete versions of Wozzeck and Peter Grimes. Week 5 digs into some recordings from the Contemporary Music Festivals featuring works by Carter, Crumb, Druckman, Dutilleux and Maderna. (I should play some Maderna on the webcast, he's quite underrated). Week 4 includes Gunther Schuller's Symphony for Brass and Percussion, and Lukas Foss' Concerto for Piano Left Hand. Week 3 has Stravinsky, Ives and Hindemith (the last with the composer conducting) and the first week has Koussevitzky conducting the Symphonie Fantastique. Good stuff, check it out!

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