12. Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic, 1971

Holst - The Planets (Bernstein, New York Philharmonic, 1971)

iTunes
Amazon.com

Wow. Lenny knows exactly what he’s doing in these Planets (except for the organ sound in “Mars” from 4:35-4:40 – what was he thinking?). Wow. Incidentally, in the orchestra’s last death throe at the end of “Mars”, there’s a weird bit of trumpet hesitation at 6:18. I wasn’t going to mention that particular bit of weirdness, but the more I listen to it the more it weirds me out.

I want to quickly mention “Jupiter”: it’s wonderfully jolly. And I didn’t even mind the mistakes in it (dodgy intonation from the trumpets at 0:56, a wrong note from a horn at 1:08, a strange note from something in the right channel at 1:16, a noticeable edit at 2:33, a very strange sound at 3:25, and a cracked note from the solo trumpet at 6:58). The Big Tune (3:04-5:18) might be a bit slow (it is), but what the hey – it’s very Lenny. (I can picture him in Full Emotional Mode, with one hand pointing his baton like a magic wand, trying to cast a spell over the string section, while his other hand is in a grasping gesture, as it holds The Meaning Of Life.)

“Saturn” is excellent. The Lenmeister treats it as if it’s a long-lost slow movement from a Sibelius symphony. Unfortunately, there’s a wayward horn entry at 2:55, which sounds like a honking swan. (Maybe Lenny wanted people to think of Sibelius’s Swan of Tuonela.) And at 4:08 there’s a strange sound in the left channel. I reckon it’s a pair of cymbals accidentally touching. If you hear it and think it’s something else, feel free to let me know. But forgetting those minor things for a moment (I did), this “Saturn” is magic.

Speaking of instrumental awkwardness, “Uranus” contains a horn having a whole heap o’ trouble playing his or her part from 1:14-1:17. You can’t miss it. Oh, and a piccolo plays a sharp note at 3:03.

But “Neptune” has no off moments at all (hurrah!), and is spookily mysterious.

Looking at Listening to Leapin’ Lenny’s Planets overall, this is definitely a top 5 contender. Unless I hear some Planets I like more.

Update: I did.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “12. Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic, 1971

  1. tatifan July 2, 2015 / 12:02 am

    One thing that drives me nuts in this version is that the Celesta plays the entire part an octave lower than it should be. What I’ve heard is that Bernstein thought that Holst didn’t know that the convention was that the Celesta sounds an octave higher than the written pitch. Holst’s own recordings certainly don’t show any evidence of this misunderstanding, and it really messes up a lot of the voice leading in movements like Mercury.

    Like

    • Peter July 2, 2015 / 10:14 am

      Howdy, O Person Who Loves Jacques:

       

      “One thing that drives me nuts in this version is that the Celesta plays the entire part an octave lower than it should be.”

       
      Where does the celesta go rogue? It appears in three movements (“Venus”, “Mercury”, and “Neptune”), so I don’t know which bit of “Hey, that’s the wrong octave!” you’re talking about.

       

      “What I’ve heard is that Bernstein thought that Holst didn’t know that the convention was that the Celesta sounds an octave higher than the written pitch. Holst’s own recordings certainly don’t show any evidence of this misunderstanding, and it really messes up a lot of the voice leading in movements like Mercury.”

       
      It’s yet another case of The Conductor Knows Best. As far as I know (which, admittedly, isn’t very far), there have been quite a few conductors throughout history who have decided to “improve” scores. Leopold Stokowski was the king of score-meddling. He was renowned for tinkering with the composer’s intentions. And it didn’t matter what score it was – he’d beaver away, turning the score into Another Stokowski Extravaganza™.

      But I think I’m getting off the point.

      The point is there’s a celesta on the Bernstein recording of The Planets that’s doin’ somethin’ it shouldn’a oughta, and it bothers you enormously.

      I’d love to be able to rectify this unwanted situation, but all I can offer is: “Try listening to another version. There are plenty.”

      Like

  2. tatifan July 30, 2015 / 4:39 am

    It’s the entire celesta part which is played incorrectly. As you mention it’s not used in every movement. Sure it bothers me, but more than that, it’s a head scratcher, since no other conductor does this (that I’ve heard). Does it ruin it for me? No, I like Bernstein’s reading very much, if not enough to put it in the top 10 perhaps. I guess it is more distracting to me, since I’ve played the organ part (sitting next to the celesta) about 20 times in performance, and have the correct playing of it etched in my hearing of the work!

    Cheers,

    Tati

    Like

    • Peter July 30, 2015 / 10:07 am

      It certainly is weird, Big T.

      “…it’s a head scratcher, since no other conductor does this (that I’ve heard).”

      Who knows what’s happening here?

      I now have three theories about what may have happened:

      1. Lenny (a.k.a. The Meddler™) was trying to “correct” that part by instructing the celesta player to bring it down (“An octave lower, you fool!”).
      2. Maybe the celesta player misread his or her part and constantly played it an octave lower than he or she was meant to – and Lenny didn’t notice.
      3. Maybe the person who originally wrote out the parts for the orchestra (I think those people are called “copyists”) made a mistake writing out the celesta part – and neither Lenny nor the orchestra’s celesta player noticed the difference.

      There may even be a fourth possibility, but I can’t think of it at the moment.

      Otherwise, I’m as in the dark about this as you are, Mr. T.

      Like

  3. digitaleconomywebRodrigo August 2, 2016 / 10:19 am

    LOL.
    Couldn’t stop smiling with your vivid description of Lenny with the “magic wand, trying to cast a spell over the string section, while his other hand is in a grasping gesture, as it holds The Meaning Of Life”…

    Like

  4. wonderboy September 20, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    not my cup of tea :(

    Like

  5. Richard Hembree December 9, 2016 / 2:53 pm

    It’s the tenor tuba that messes up the line in Uranus at 1:14-1:17, not the horn. Trust me, I have this score memorized from years of analyzing it and writing college essays on it. Also, I’ve played the horn and know that the horn entrance is a few bars later with the strings. This is the second recording in which you’ve mistaken the tenor tuba for the horn, I can’t remember which was the other recording. Oh well.

    Great analysis, this is one of my least favorite recordings, unfortunately. It’s the second Planets CD I bought, the first being Simon Rattle with the Philharmonia Orchestra and I have to say I found the latter to be far superior, especially with Venus, Mercury, and Saturn. Definitely Saturn. This one left a bad taste in my mouth with the unbalanced instruments in the latter portion of the movement. It was not calming as I found the Rattle recording to be. I’m legitimately surprised to see that recording ranked so low while this one being so high.

    Like

    • Peter December 9, 2016 / 3:10 pm

      “It’s the tenor tuba that messes up the line in Uranus at 1:14-1:17, not the horn.”

      Oops. It sounds like an English horn to me. (An out-of-tune English horn.)

       
      “Trust me, …”

      I do.

       
      “… I have this score memorized from years of analyzing it and writing college essays on it. Also, I’ve played the horn and know that the horn entrance is a few bars later with the strings. This is the second recording in which you’ve mistaken the tenor tuba for the horn, I can’t remember which was the other recording. Oh well.”

      That’d be my faulty ears, not hearing the difference. Can I blame it on my tinnitus? (No you can’t, Peter.)

      Like

    • Peter December 9, 2016 / 3:37 pm

      “Great analysis, this is one of my least favorite recordings, unfortunately. …”

      Fair enough. À chacun son goût.

       
      “… It’s the second Planets CD I bought, the first being Simon Rattle with the Philharmonia Orchestra and I have to say I found the latter to be far superior, especially with Venus, Mercury, and Saturn. Definitely Saturn. This one left a bad taste in my mouth with the unbalanced instruments in the latter portion of the movement. It was not calming as I found the Rattle recording to be. I’m legitimately surprised to see that recording ranked so low while this one being so high.”

      The thing I love about the Bernstein is how confident/flamboyant/shameless it is. It makes no excuses for its interpretative flair. (But that’s The Lenny Way™, isn’t it?) I love how it glares at you, saying, “This is how we play The Planets, pal. Get used to it, or get out of the way!”

      I rated the Rattle/Philharmonia Planets relatively low because of how I thought of it overall. Interpretatively, it had good points and bad points. The best of the good points was that Rattle’s approach was openhearted. And the interpretation was backed up by the playing. In other words, it was performed as intended – it wasn’t the sound of an orchestra struggling to realise the conductor’s intentions. In the demerit column, though, I thought it was bland in a few places. And with the sound quality, I didn’t think it was all that great compared to other Planets recordings.

      Ultimately with the Rattle, it was simply a matter of there being many more Planets recordings that I preferred. But I must say that when I do listen to it, I enjoy it.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s