Leonard Bernstein / New Philharmonic Orchestra / New York Philharmonic Society Orchestra

Copland: Symphony No. 3; Quiet City

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Did they love each other? Did they hate each other? Did they respect each other? Yes, all of the above and apparently all at the same time. Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were without a doubt the two most popular American composers of serious music in the twentieth century -- Gershwin's music is too much fun to be serious -- and their relationship was long and deep and filled with so many conflicting emotions as to be almost beyond comprehension, much less explication. But one thing is sure: Bernstein's recordings of Copland's music are almost unbearably exciting. His 1986 recording of Copland's Symphony No. 3 with the New York Philharmonic is the most intensely expressive and overwhelmingly emotional performance of the work ever recorded. Bernstein's conducting is ecstatically lyrical, deeply dramatic, profoundly rhetorical, and so massively monumental that the music itself all but disappears. Indeed, Bernstein's Copland's Third might sound to some listeners too much like Bernstein's Third -- a little restraint and a soupçon of dignity might not have been out of place -- but there's no denying the effectiveness of Bernstein's conducting. The New York Philharmonic plays with power, precision, and panache. Deutsche Grammophon's early digital sound is big and loud, but a bit empty.

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