Label : Naxos
Format : Flac track
Cover : Yes

Here, in one convenient box, are all of Marin Alsop’s Bernstein recordings for Naxos–eight CDs worth–performances as fine as Bernstein’s own, and sometimes even better. This version of Mass, which Alsop regards as Bernstein’s masterpiece, is the new reference version. Her accounts of the symphonies are fabulous, uniformly. Alsop chooses (mostly) the original version of Kaddish, and makes it work beautifully, despite all of the “talking” (as Bernstein put it). The choirs sing gloriously, with unusual clarity and intensity.

Several of the individual discs have already been reviewed, and you can check out those earlier discussions for details. Perhaps the most interesting collection is Disc No. 7, which includes the Suite from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, CBS Music, the ballet from On the Town, and A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet, eight variations on the song New York, New York by Berio, Corigliano, Druckman, Foss, Kirchner, Schuman, Takemitsu and Williams. You also get, on Disc 8, Anniversaries for Orchestra, well-made orchestrations by Garth Edwin Sunderland of the eponymous piano pieces.

There are are a few major works missing here: the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (although the Mambo is included as a separate item)–not a big deal in my opinion as there are a million fine versions out there already, the ballet Dybbuk, and the Concerto for Orchestra. Otherwise, everything that matters is here. The orchestras (Baltimore, Bournemouth, São Paulo) play wonderfully, the sonics are terrific, but most importantly Alsop’s identification with the idiom is so compelling that she makes an ideal case for the music’s viability under the leadership of an artist other than the composer, and the value of that can’t be underestimated.

You also get a DVD documentary about Bernstein, Larger than Life, that’s not bad. Alsop contributes an interview, and Bernstein’s three children offer useful commentary. While obviously hagiographic, it’s not sappy, and it deals honestly but gently with some of the man’s personal quirks and shortcomings. It’s very watchable. This is an essential set not just for Bernstein fans, but for anyone who cares about 20th century music more generally, for it makes a very powerful case for seeing Bernstein in this context.

Tracklist : Bernstein Recordings – Marin Alsop