This is a 5-DVD box featuring the conducting (and in one case, the piano playing) of Leonard Bernstein pretty much at the height of his powers. I reviewed three of them when they were issued as single DVDs: Beethoven - Ode to Freedom (Symphony No. 9 )/ June Anderson, Sarah Walker, Klaus Konig, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Leonard Bernstein, Mozart Piano Concerto 17 & Symphony 39 / Bernstein, Wiener Philharmoniker , and Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 / Leonard Bernstein, and was impressed with all three. I suggest you click on the links to see those reviews, as I will not repeat them here.
I had never seen or heard the Brahms DVD or the one, never before released, of him conducting the Orchestre National de France in works by Franck and Milhaud. Unfortunately, the disc with the Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 had a defect that prevented me from hearing the No. 3, but I can tell you that the First Symphony is marvelous, with drama, deep emotion, and high romanticism as only Bernstein can present it. The Israel Philharmonic always played well for Bernstein and this recording is no exception. I am impressed with how richly and dramatically the strings play. The brass, particularly the trombones and horns, are, in a word, sensational, on a par with any orchestra I've ever heard.
I'm a little less impressed with the disc of French music. The Franck Symphony seems a little flaccid somehow. This seems unusual for a Bernstein performance and I'm wondering if it is the orchestra at fault. However, kudos go to the orchestra's English horn who plays his long solo soulfully. The two Milhaud works -- La Création du monde, and Le Boeuf sur la toit -- certainly have their moments, but -- no fault of Bernstein or the orchestra -- they each go on too long. I've always loved parts of that jazzy fugue in Création but somehow it seems ultimately to pall, and there's no question that in Boeuf sur le toit, Brazilian rhythms and all, Milhaud beats his main melody to death with incessant repetition. Still, these are reasonably good performances of the two pieces and if you like them better than I do, they can be recommended.
All in all, though, I do give this box set a thumbs up. It is priced at only a slight price break but it nice to have all five discs in one box. The packaging is both clever and space-saving. (And I chuckled when I saw that if you fold out the discs' container, printed on the five disc-holders in large letters are: L E N N Y )
Running time: 6'59"; Format: NTSC 4:3; Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish; Region: 0 (worldwide)