Can it really
be fifteen years since Leonard Bernstein passed away? Time
runs, no, flies sometimes, but what is so obvious is that
Lennie’s music still lives, it is performed and it is recorded
by younger generations of musicians. That is, in a way, proof
that it has an independent value, like Beethoven’s and Stravinsky’s.
“My time will come”, said Gustav Mahler – and it did – but
Leonard Bernstein’s time came in his own lifetime and has
Here, with the
excellent Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under their principal
conductor since 2002, Marin Alsop, we get three works from
different periods of his creative life, works that he recorded
several times for different labels. Bernstein being one of
the greatest conductors of all times (not everyone agrees,
I know) set his seal on everything he recorded. Other interpretations
have to be set against his, but Marin Alsop, herself a Bernstein
protégé, has nothing to fear, being well attuned to his idiom.
I heard her conducting the RPO at the Barbican some five years
ago. Her opening piece was the Candide overture, which
was a really winning performance.
which is the largest work here, is in effect a violin concerto.
It starts with the solo violin, very convincingly played by
St Petersburg born Philippe Quint, and gradually adds the
orchestra, building to a fugato. The germ in this music is
the motif that later was to become Maria in West
Side Story. The background and inspiration to the composition
was Bernstein’s re-reading of Plato’s Symposium. The
movements have titles like “Aristophanes” and “Socrates”,
but it is not really programme music. I have always skipped
the titles and thought that this is excellent “just-sit-back-in-your-chair-and-listen”
music. Just wipe away all preconceptions of what a violin
concerto should sound like and enjoy the melodic, harmonic
and rhythmic inventiveness of the composer at his very best
- he called this work his “most convincing”. I got to know
it through Bernstein’s own DG recording (his third) with Gidon
Kremer as soloist. Kremer is perhaps a bit more intense but
Quint holds his own. The Bournemouth Orchestra sound more
idiomatic than the Israel Philharmonic for Bernstein, but
the difference is marginal. Just for the record, Bernstein
recorded the serenade first in the mid-1950s with Isaac Stern
as soloist - he also played it at the premiere in Venice -
then a decade later with Zino Francescatti.
takes us back to the early Bernstein of the mid-1940s and
it is in a way third cousin to the roughly contemporaneous
Fancy Free, although not as immediately catchy. It
is more contemplative to begin with but it gathers momentum.
We recognize, especially in the middle of the work the slightly
jazzy, slightly ironic Bernstein that had listened to and
learnt something from Shostakovich. It ends rather gloomily.
written for the Boston Symphony centenary, is a light-hearted,
highly entertaining piece in eight short movements, unified
by a two-note motto B-C (Boston Centenary).
He quotes from his own works as well as from other favourite
music like Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel, the waltz from
Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, the oboe cadenza
from Beethoven’s fifth symphony, fragments from Fancy Free
and West Side Story. In the final movement,
“The BSO Forever”, it is Sousa’s Stars and Stripes
that is recalled with a little seasoning from the Radetzky
March. He must have had great fun when he wrote it and
the Bournemouth Symphony play it tongue-in-cheek.
The whole disc
is a fine tribute to “without question the greatest musician
America has ever produced” as David Ciucevich writes in his
liner notes. Mike Clements has ensured first class sound and
like all other Naxos issues it retails at bargain price. I
would willingly have paid full price for such committed music-making.
see also Review
by Dominy Clements