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Paul Robinson.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1982.
152pp, cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 0-919630-11-1.

Reviewed by Robert E. Wheeler.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

This is the fourth volume in a series devoted to famous conductors. Although obviously an admirer of Bernstein, the author writes with an open mind, making due allowances for the detractors who accuse this celebrated musician of showmanship bordering on egomania. There is a candid admission that Bernstein's undoubted charisma, combined with favourable circumstances, contributed to his meteoric success. Still, his extraordinary accomplishments are hard to deny. The dramatic story of this rise to fame is well documented by Robinson, the respected music director of CJRT-FM and a conductor of recognized stature.

To be blessed with the physical appeal of Hyperion is an enviable advantage. But in a highly competitive world, it is not enough. Robinson shows that true success has to be earned, and that Bernstein soon learned the importance of unremitting application. Beginning with the early years, he discusses the Broadway musicals: On the Town, West Side Story, and Candide. Cogent comparisons are made between other conductors who influenced Bernstein, such as Koussevitsky and Fritz Reiner, the latter, oddly enough, a striking contrast to Bernstein's histrionic mannerisms.

As music director of the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein created an immediate impact on America's musical life. Never an ivory-tower artist safely insulated from a troubled society, he displayed an eager interest in various social problems that agitated the rebellious 60s and early 70s. At the same time, he proved himself uncommonly adept as an educator, able to communicate with the average music-lover. His Norton Lectures at Harvard and his popular TV series devoted to explaining the music of the masters won enthusiastic praise. In these talks he enhanced his popularity by voicing strong misgivings concerning the cerebral experiments of the dodecaphonic composers, not to mention the esoteric preoccupations of the more audacious avant-garde who appeared to be obsessed with jejune theatrical capers having nothing to do with music.

Robinson believes that Bernstein has matured under European influence. He offers illuminating comments on his inter- ' pretations of Beethoven, Mahler, and others. He alludes to Bernstein's memorable recording of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and demonstrates how Bernstein, with characteristic bravado, deviates from conventional reading of the score. Like Stokowski, Koussevitsky, and Mitropoulos, Bernstein is prone to Byronic excess; restraint of any kind is not easily achieved. Nonetheless, he has been an inspiration to millions, an invincible enemy of pedantic and sterile performances. His televised Omnibus programs led to a greater appreciation of classical music, divesting it of a solemn and snobbish mystique that alienated the masses. Critics who fail to see beyond a choreographic podium style are inevitably limited in their understanding; they permit mere surface appearance to blind them to musical truth.

An invaluable service performed by Robinson's study is the concluding discography, which is divided into three sections: "Bernstein Talks About Music," "Bernstein Conducts," and "Special Issues." All known Bernstein recordings are listed. This excellent volume, with its wealth of detail and appropriate illustrations, should be a welcome addition to any library.

Robert E. Wheeler, Gananoque, ON.
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