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Yannick Nézet-Séguin: my Leonard Bernstein top five

"For me Leonard Bernstein was a conductor first before I knew he was a composer," says Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who here presents an exclusive playlist of his favourite recordings by the inspirational conductor and composer. "Later I discovered his compositions and fully realised his breadth. Not only was he influential in my own approach to music, but I think he's influenced everyone in music today: he spent his life building bridges between different art forms."Read more…

Brahms Symphony No. 4, Vienna Philharmonic

I was attracted to Brahms as a young student and I decided to collect the money I was making to buy CDs. I saw this Brahms Symphony No. 4 with Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic and thought: "that sounds about right!" So this is what I listened to. The sound of the Vienna Philharmonic in the Musikverein in combination with Bernstein's interpretation – incredibly personal yet faithful to the text – very much shaped my own way of feeling this music. It remains my favourite recording of a Brahms symphony to this day.


Mahler Symphony No. 2, New York Philharmonic (1987)

This Mahler Two was recorded many years after Bernstein had been the NYPO's music director, but the friendship and chemistry between him and the orchestra continued. This was in the '80s, so in his mature years. There's a depth of meaning in every note, every bar, and it's quite expansive in terms of tempi (as it was for Bernstein in the 1980s in general). But there's also an incredible accuracy in regards to what Mahler wants in terms of accelerandi and ritenuti, in the placing of the offstage brass and the vocal soloists and chorus. All this makes it to me the perfect Mahler recording.


Mozart Requiem, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

OK, this is definitely not a recording I'd say embodies the Mozart style or offers a landmark of Mozart interpretation. I think it's a very different case. It's Bernstein the composer, a genius, reinterpreting the work of another genius. Maybe he gives himself greater license because the piece itself was unfinished – who knows? – but there are more liberties taken than usual, even by Bernstein standards. At the very end of the recording, for example, the last 'quia plus es' just fades out with a long diminuendo, which is absolutely not in the score! But it just brings tears to the eyes the first time you hear it.


Mahler Symphony No. 9, Berlin Philharmonic

I love this Mahler Nine, because it's such an unusual case in music history. Here was the only encounter between one of the true geniuses of the podium and one of the greatest orchestras ever. There's a lot that's been written about why that was so, and whether Karajan intentionally kept Bernstein away from his orchestra and all of this. That's not so important. What's important is to feel, and what I feel and hear in this recording is this sort of very intense one night stand between the musicians and conductor in an incredible piece. I have goosebumps just talking about it!


Bernstein Symphonic Dances from 'West Side Story'; 'Candide', Los Angeles Philharmonic

Of course, Bernstein recorded these pieces many times, and of course it's wonderful to hear the early recordings. But in this recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic there's an affectionate style, a sense of him loving every note. In all the "Somewhere" excerpts from the 'West Side Story' Symphonic Dances, for example, every note is lived as though it were the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth. The older composer's love for the music of his earlier self shines through in the exuberance of the Candide overture, too.


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