When Sony Classical embarked on its "Bernstein Century" edition, the label downplayed its considerable goods with a haphazard release schedule that failed to build the critical mass that the beautiful

When Sony Classical embarked on its "Bernstein Century" edition, the label downplayed its considerable goods with a haphazard release schedule that failed to build the critical mass that the beautifully remastered recordings deserved. Finally, we have what should've been the first order of business: an integral set of Leonard Bernstein's pioneering Mahler symphony cycle. His later, Deutsche Grammophon cycle was more considered and benefited from far more modern sound, but the conductor didn't always improve upon his original New York Philharmonic recordings. Now collected in a budget-price, 12-disc boxed set, these are riveting performances, with the takes on symphonies Nos. 2 and 9 unrivaled for sheer emotional impact and a Kindertotenlieder with Janet Baker among the bonuses. The packaging is fine for bargain price, although the booklet (containing, in a nice touch, Bernstein's original essay "Mahler: His Time Has Come") has been bound so cheaply that it comes apart easily. So, this is something of a mixed blessing. (Couldn't it have been produced in a more deluxe fashion, at a higher price point, since the individual discs are available at budget price?) Still, the set makes for an economical entree into the worlds of both Mahler and Bernstein.—BB

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