This is one of those odd recordings that require special knowledge to find - until now, when Amazon.com makes it available. The CD was a project by Polydor International GmbH (DGG) who at the time in 1982 ventured into recording live performances in this country. This program was recorded in 1982 in the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic!!!! And despite the surprising components of this CD, the recording is one to cherish on many levels.
Bernstein opens both at the keyboard and conducting Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' and while we've all known that Bernstein was an accomplished pianist, there are relatively few extant recordings to prove that. This is 'Rhapsody in Blue' that contains all the jazz elements of the score but also allows us to hear some of the more extended, lyrical moments of melody as performed and conducted by Bernstein.
What follows is for this listener the most perfect recording of the Barber 'Adagio for Strings' ever recorded. Bernstein opens the work with barely audible sound, a sound more like breathing than strings, and progresses through this little masterpiece of American music with all the romance and passion and tears that Barber intended. The strings of the Los Angeles Philharmonic are lush and beautifully molded and as pliant as any orchestra's sections. This is an Adagio that must be heard to be believed.
The last work on the CD is a very understated, quite sensitive performance of Copland's 'Appalachian Spring' (the suite selected by Bernstein is the 1945 full orchestra version). The simple beauty of this Copland score is brought to life with Bernstein and the LA Phil, It is a masterful performance and the entire recording has a sound (a digital recording) that is as rich as any currently available.
There may be other choices for the Gershwin and the Copland, but for Barber's 'Adagio for Strings', this is the recording to purchase. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, May 06