Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic brought out the worst in each other, the sloppiness of his conducting matching the slovenliness of the orchestra's playing and the superficiality of his interpretations matching the sentimentality its playing. Although Deutsche Grammophon has blighted the world with Bernstein and the Vienna's awful performances of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, they had at least spared the world their abysmal 1971 performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto until its release on this disc. But now here it is, a performance so sloppy, so slovenly, so superficial, and so sentimental that it may be the nadir of Bernstein's career. What makes this performance so unbelievably bad is that Bernstein has decided not only to conduct the work with his customary disregard of the score, he has decided to conduct it from the piano and thereby destroying what little cogency and competence he has as a conductor. The out-of-tune and out-of-time playing of the Vienna is excruciating, but what is even worse is Bernstein's piano playing. All his faults as a conductor are magnified in his piano playing and his glib disregard for Ravel's score is simply grotesque. Listen just to Bernstein's solo opening for the central Adagio assai: he cannot play the notes, he cannot play in tempo, and he cannot imagine much less express the serenity of Ravel's sublime music. Bernstein and the Vienna's Haydn Symphony No. 102 is poorly played, poorly conducted, and poorly interpreted. But the Ravel Concerto is an abomination.
AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Symphony No. 102 in B flat major, H. 1/102|
|Piano Concerto in G major|