It was very surprising when I discovered some less-than-enthusiastic reviews for this recording ( a negative one on classicstoday.com, and lukewarm reviews on classical.net, and right here on Amazon). I had long regarded it as one of the very best recordings of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. Bernstein conducts the NY Philharmonic with his usual passion, emotion--but without overindulgence-- and his knack for creating great excitement. Pianist Phillipe Entremont accompanies with brilliant and fiery piano playing that, together with Bernstein's conducting, really captures the drama and struggle of this tempestuous warhorse. (Entremont has got to be one of the most underrated pianists of all time, especially after hearing this recording and his recordings of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paginini and Grieg's Piano Concerto, both with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sony Essential Classics). There are other great recordings of the Tchaikovsky, particularly Van Cliburn in strereo and Martha Argerich in digital, but none of them convey the granduer and heroism that Bernstein and Entremont bring to this performance, making this work sound more epic than any other recording. I was very pleased when I saw a very positive review of this recording on ArkivMusic.com. Please read that review as it complements mine. The sound quality, using 24 bit remastering (the best currently available), is extremely good, better than the other stereo recordings.
The Dvorak Piano Concerto is not up to par with Dvorak's greatest works (like his cello concerto) and I am not familiar with other recordings of the work, but this is a very good performance and has great sound. The concerto has many memorable Slavic tunes and is a worthy filler.
In sum, get this recording for the Tchaikovsky. You will not be disappointed.
After writing this review, I found a review in the Nov./Dec. 1999 American Record Guide that I will share here. Although they weren't enthusiastic about the Dvorak performance (and so I have left out those comments), what they say about the Tchaikovsky performance speaks for itself:
"To Entremont and Bernstein, this was not just another recording of a tired old warhorse. It was instead an event of near cosmic significance. Our July/August 1997 Tchaikovsky Overview applauded the "beautiful teamwork" that these two great performers display here. It's no wonder that we consider this recording to be "just right". Emotions are heightened as in no other version. The playing is full of wonder, and there's a sense of discovery at every turn. Each note matters. Entremont can thunder with the best of them, though his playing is never unpleasantly percussive. Then he can turn on a dime and melt your heart with a tender, touching phrase. [Movement] II, for example, has never sounded quite as lovely or enchanting. And Bernstein is with his mercurial soloist every step of the way, providing unprecedented color and intensity in the orchestral episodes. Moreover, the New York Philharmonic was on its very best behavior at the recording sessions. The thrilling sound of the brass and the incisive string attacks will lift you out of your seat more than once."