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Bernstein’s only engagement with the BBC Symphony Orchestra took place in April 1982. Founded in 1930 by Sir Adrian Boult, the orchestra was admired for its interpretations of contemporary music, and had played host to distinguished conductors such as Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter. Bernstein and the orchestra got off to a rocky start – Bernstein was spectacularly late for the first rehearsal and made no apology for this. But out of this rough beginning grew a partnership between orchestra and conductor that resulted in perhaps the most controversial and infamous and perhaps the most beautifully intense interpretation of Elgar’s Engima Variations. Most famously, under Bernstein’s baton, ‘Nimrod’ (Variation IX) lasts five minutes and fifteen seconds – nearly twice as long as most versions.
But, as Humphrey Burton quotes in the liner notes for this release; ‘when you can see the music as well as hearing it, when you watch on camera the intensity of Bernstein’s beat and body language (particularly in the studio rehearsal where he implores the orchestra to ‘keep it as pure and noble as you can’) you are caught up in this wonderfully spiritual music.’ Humphrey Burton’s booklet note is informative and enlightening, and provides a unique perspective on the conductor and the DVD programme – in particular the rehearsal, which he directed. As an eminent broadcaster, biographer and director, he had a 20-year association with Bernstein, during which he directed over 170 concerts and documentaries.
The DVD also contains the rehearsal of the Enigma Variations at the BBC studios, and an interview with Leonard Bernstein by Barry Norman about the themes relating to the variations, with Japanese, German and French subtitles.
ICA Classics’ previous DVD release featuring Leonard Bernstein (ICAD5082) has received great critical acclaim and was awarded Diapason d’Or by magazine Diapason.
This is the first release of this material on DVD.
Picture format: 4:3
Running time: 65’
Menu languages: English
Booklet languages: E/F/G
Region code: 0
Territory Restrictions: None
13th September 2013
“the film makes fascinating, often hilarious viewing – less for Lenny’s japes mid-performance than for the rehearsal sequences...Bernstein’s charisma wins by more than a hair’s breadth.”
The Arts Desk
28th September 2013
“Watching Bernstein conduct was always entertaining, and the physical contortions and facial expressions are mesmerising here. And he draws a wonderfully rich, dark sound from the BBC players...Even more entertaining is Humphrey Burton’s rehearsal documentary...Compulsive viewing”
14th November 2013
“The orchestral playing is magnificent. There is tremendous detail and clarity to be heard in Bernstein’s interpretation. Some movements are fast and furious and the level of virtuosity displayed, especially by the strings, is incredible.”
Christmas Issue 2013
“It's worth watching the rehearsal before the performance, as it gives a good idea of Bernstein's approach...Fast movements tend to be very fast, which raises a few eyebrows among the musicians...but he does get the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which he had never conducted before, to respond to his intense direction.”
“Even if it's still not great Elgar, the DVD, more than most of its kind, feels like a personal encounter with the magnetic, unguarded Bernstein.”
Click here for alternative recordings of this work.