Here we have the most expressionist recording of Das Lied von der Erde I know, and I know about 20 recordings (Klemperer, Giulini, Haitink, Jochum, Rattle, Walter, etc), not too much, but enough to compare it with some other conductors and styles.
First of all it's important to forget the poor Decca recording, with lot of noise and not very well balanced. Anyway, if you can go to what the interpretation is, you will find a jewel of Mahler's music.
Leonard Bernstein is recorded here in his first years playing with the wiener orchestra and the good feeling between both can be felt since the very beginning of the work, from that breathtaking Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde that Bernstein understand like a terrible tale, like a touch of attention to the not prepared listeners. The power, the intensity of the orchestra's playing is really outstanding and James King singing is the ideal complement as he is too full of energy and mahlerian style. He's one of the most convincing singers in this complex first song, together with Wunderlich (EMI, with Klemperer), who sings really wonderful too.
The Bariton songs (No.2, 4 & 6) are sung by the greatest Mahler singer of all time, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who join his outstanding voice with a very natural and mature understanding of the scores, something he really feel like no other, as you can listen in the final Abschied, where you can think he's singing his own farewell, like Ferrier did, but, in my opinion, with a much more technical singing in this recording. The dynamics, the emotions, the tempi... are so great described by Dieskau that it really seems the work was composed for him.
The orchestra playing is not the typical from the late Wiener Philharmoniker we know, much more classical and "distant", as we can watch and listen in the new DVD releases of Mahler & Bernstein (DG). In this `60s recording the Wiener play in a state of hypnotism, following Bernstein baton and his vision of the work, a vision that will not change too much in the next years, and that brings this music full of emotion, power and lyrics, but a lyric from an expressionist point of view, very human and very devastated by the idea of departing, of the farewell. Anyway, Das Lied von der Erde is not a unique song, one feeling; it's a work of six very different pictures, every one a corner of the human soul and existence. Bernstein understand this multiple feelings very well and we can find how charm is his conducting sometimes, how wild others, how sad, how he aspires eternity at the end... The basses from the Wiener, the metals, the strings, woodwinds... give them best in this recording, not so refined like we can listen in the Giulini recording with Berlin (DG), for example, probably the most perfect from the technical point of view. This very little lost of perfection in some passages is because of the very fiery playing of the orchestra and the very deep emotion of the recording, one of the mahlerian monuments of all times.
As I wrote, the recording is not good, and it's curios that this same recording is released in a Deutsche Grammophon box (together with the rest of Mahler's symphonies and songs conducted by Bernstein) with a much more better and clean sound.
A must have, in my opinion with Klemperer (Philharmonia, EMI) and Giulini (Berlin, DG).