DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Leonard Bernstein Reflections (1977/2009)

This fine film may seem a bit dated because it was made in 1977 and shown around the world but not in North America.

Published on November 20, 2009

Leonard Bernstein Reflections (1977/2009)

Leonard Bernstein Reflections (1977/2009)

Documentary by Peter Rosen
Studio: Medici Arts 3078728 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 color & B&W
Audio: PCM Stereo (Extras: DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: English, German French, Chinese
No region code
Extras: MILHAUD: The Nothing-Doing Bar ballet, Op. 58 – with Orch. Nat. de France (1976); Slide show of Bernstein photos on location in Israel and New York City
Length: Doc.: 50 min.; Extras: 20 min.
Rating: *****

This fine film may seem a bit dated because it was made in 1977 and shown around the world but not in North America. (Would be of interest to know why; this has occurred with many other films and recordings.)  There are other documentaries on the great conductor/composer/and communicator of music knowledge, but this exploration of Bernstein’s colorful career offers a different view and many face-to-face comments directly from him and his ever-present cigarette.

One of the most interesting is his detailed story of his 1943 launch to fame (at age 25) by suddenly being called upon to replace the ailing Bruno Walter at the podium of the New York Philharmonic for a nationwide broadcast. He talks about his Boston childhood, his meeting Reiner, Mitropoulos and Koussevitsky, and his general musical growth.  Excerpts of a large number of his works are seen and heard – many in rehearsal with young students in Israel and New York.  Bernstein discusses his belief in tonality, although he delved into atonality in a few works – using it as a negative sort of feeling that was made positive and inspiring by final transformation into the tonal. He also mentions his excitement at the opportunity TV provided him to give millions a better appreciation of music. (By the way, his seven landmark Omnibus TV specials are available in a 4-DVD set.)

The complete ballet La Boeuf sur le toit is an enjoyable bonus performance provided in the extra, filmed in Paris in 1976, and the slides of Bernstein and acquaintances taken during the making of the documentary are also interesting.  The transfer of image and sound is good, although of course the Milhaud performance is in derived surround.

 - John Sunier




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