June 15, 2018

Warner Classics celebrates Bernstein centenary with archival rarities

An American in Paris: never-before-released recordings of Bernstein & the Orchestre National de France.

Warner Classics celebrates Bernstein centenary with a box set featuring never-before-released recordings of Lenny, and Antonio Pappano’s landmark new double album of his symphonies.

‘Technique is communication: the two words are synonymous in conductors.’Leonard Bernstein

On 25 August, 2018, Warner Classics celebrates 100 years since the birth of one of the most beloved and iconic communicators the music world has ever seen: the composer, conductor, pianist and educator, Leonard Bernstein. The label explores the legend and legacy of Lenny with two major editions. On the eve of the centenary, the 7CD box set An American in Paris pays tribute with never-before-released live performance and rehearsal recordings of Bernstein himself at the podium and the piano. This follows a new double album, slated for release on 10 August, of Bernstein’s complete symphonies with one of the great conductor-pianists of our time, Sir Antonio Pappano.

An American in Paris: Recordings and Concerts with the Orchestre National de France

Leonard Bernstein was the quintessential New Yorker, bristling with youthful energy and new ideas.

But he was also an ardent Francophile, and his passion for French music and culture comes to the fore in this box set, with benchmark recordings and rare archival treasures documenting the love affair between Lenny and the Orchestre National de France during the 1970s.

‘I’m not interested in having the orchestra sound like itself,’ he once said, ‘I want it to sound like the composer.’ This approach can be heard with Bernstein’s cherished Orchestre National de France in a broad selection of repertoire from dramatic Berlioz (including the Symphonie fantastique) to jazz-infused Milhaud. Soloists include Mstislav Rostropovich (Schumann and Bloch cello concertos) and soprano Marilyn Horne, who has said she felt ‘indebted’ to Bernstein for his deep insights into Ravel’s Schéhérazade. Bernstein himself is the electrifying soloist in the same composer’s Concerto in G Major, with its touches of jazz that the American conductor-pianist understood only too well.

The music of Maurice Ravel is the centrepiece of the box set, which features a previously unreleased 1975 live recording from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, marking the centenary of that composer’s birth with a rapturous performance of Boléro, and a captivating yet increasingly agitated La Valse which demonstrates the excitement of Bernstein’s full-throttle approach to French repertoire. Further fascinating insights into Bernstein’s artistry as a conductor (and into his personality behind the scenes) can be heard for the first time in three rare rehearsal recordings featuring music by Ravel.

A second live concert recording from 1979, also receiving its world premiere as part of this box set, bears witness to the palpable pleasure the ONF took in playing Bernstein’s own music (The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and the symphonic suite from On the Waterfront).

All Warner Classics recordings have been remastered by Art & Son Studio, Annecy in 24bit/96kHZ from original tapes. The previously unreleased live programmes have all been newly remastered by INA (France’s national sound archive).

Sir Antonio Pappano – Bernstein: The Complete Symphonies

In a stirring centenary tribute to the great conductor-pianist who inspired him growing up, Sir Antonio Pappano takes on Bernstein’s symphonies Jeremiah, The Age of Anxiety and Kaddish, along with the exuberant orchestral jazz masterpiece Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.

The forces of Pappano’s Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are joined by such stellar soloists as contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and pianist Beatrice Rana in the fierce Symphony No.2, the Age of Anxiety.

‘I think his symphonies are a wonderful picture of him, complete. They offer an opportunity for us to follow his development,’ says Pappano of Bernstein. ‘These symphonies are about a crisis of faith, when earth-shattering events shake us. And what do we do? We lose our faith, we question. Bernstein tries to bring us back.

‘It’s a fantastic moment to pay homage to him. What he did for us – if we can repay him in some way and leave a record of our way of expressing his music – making this recording does that.’

Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia perform Bernstein’s Symphony No.1 Jeremiah at the BBC Proms, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, on the album release day, 10 August.

Pappano Bernstein
Bernstein An American in Paris