Director-star Bradley Cooper's long-awaiting Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, featuring Cooper as the late composer-conductor (1918-1990) and Carey Mulligan as his wife Felicia Montealegre, opens next week in limited theatrical release before arriving December 20 on Netflix. Bernstein's final label home of Deutsche Grammophon (DG) has the official soundtrack album featuring the new recordings made for the film by Yannick Nezet-Seguin leading the London Symphony Orchestra as well as a 2-CD overview, The Maestro: The Very Best of Leonard Bernstein, which draws on his 1976-1990 tenure with the label. (Both releases are due December 1.) Bernstein's longest label affiliation, though, was with Columbia Records. Sony Classical, home of those Columbia recordings, has recently issued the biggest of the Maestro tie-ins with a 12-CD box set, Maestro on Record, that takes the form of a 224-page coffee table book.
Whereas DG collected all of Bernstein's music for the label in a 158-CD box set, it took three boxes (and 198 CDs) to assemble his Columbia recordings (recorded between 1956 and 1979). Sony Classical has addressed Bernstein's voluminous catalogue in various themed or composer-focused over the years, so it's appropriate that Maestro on Record takes a different approach. The main selling point isn't the music - though it's thoughtfully curated as and powerful today as when it was recorded - but rather the photos. Of roughly 21,000 photos related to Bernstein in the Sony Music Archives, producer Robert Russ and his team have selected hundreds (many previously unpublished) to document Bernstein's life and work, year by year, in this hefty tome. Most of the photos here were taken by the legendary Don Hunstein, the Columbia staff photographer who shot over 100,000 photos for the label between 1955 and 1986. Bob Cato, Hank Parker, Sandy Speiser, and Art Maillet are among the other photographers represented.
Needless to say, these photos - most of which are in black-and-white - are stunning. Shot in the U.S. and various international locales, these photos capture the photogenic Bernstein at the piano, the podium, on stage, in the studio, and everywhere in between. With his ubiquitous cigarette in hand or in mouth, the Maestro is pictured solo and with his wife, children, and luminaries including Glenn Gould, Dmitri Shostakovich, Rudolf Serkin, Benny Goodman, Marilyn Horne, and Aaron Copland. The photos add up to a mini-history of mid-century American culture; among the most fun photos is one of Bernstein in a mobbed Korvette's location, 1969, signing copies of his Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies album for his adoring public. (Another signing from 1976 is documented with the dapper composer sporting a beard.)
Commentary throughout the book has been provided by Craig Urquhart, David Gutman (who pens the year-by-year notes keeping the readers up to date with Bernstein's busy calendar), Gabryel Smith, Philippe Entremont, and Bernstein's daughter Jamie. The 12 CDs in set are arranged by theme:
- CD 1: Orchestral Works I
- CD 2: Orchestral Works II
- CD 3: Symphonies I
- CD 4: Symphonies II
- CD 5: Mahler I
- CD 6: Mahler II
- CD 7: Concertos
- CD 8: The American Album
- CD 9: Opera
- CD 10: The Composer I
- CD 11: The Composer II; and
- CD 12: The Pianist.
Collectively, these discs paint a fine portrait of Bernstein's wide-ranging Columbia repertoire. The two discs of Orchestral Works feature compositions from Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, Ravel, and others. The Symphonies discs have Bernstein bringing his dynamic stamp to Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and more. His acclaimed Mahler recordings are sampled on the fifth and sixth discs, while CD 7's Concertos are by Beethoven, Liszt, and Sibelius. The American Album has a cross-section of the 20th century American work championed by Bernstein (Gershwin, Copland, Ives, Barber), and the Opera disc touches on his interpretations of Bizet (Carmen), Verdi (Falstaff), Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier), and more. Of course, Bernstein was as acclaimed a composer as he was a conductor, and so CD 10 and 11 celebrate his own additions to the canon. Though no Broadway cast album performances are here, On the Town, Candide, and West Side Story are represented along with a handful of his classical works. (Those wishing to explore more of Bernstein in this vein shouldn't hesitate to obtain Sony's 25-CD box set from 2017 entitled The Composer.) The final CD spotlights Bernstein as pianist, playing both his own music and that by Mozart and Shostakovich.
Maestro on Record, beautifully remastered by Andreas K. Meyer at Swan Studios NYC and Martin Kistner, is both a solid overview of Bernstein's Columbia oeuvre and an essential volume of rare photos and engaging text about the man and the music. An appetizer of sorts for the Maestro film, it's available now from Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada. We are an Amazon affiliate and earn on qualifying purchases.