> BERNSTEIN Jeremiah, Age of Anxiety Slatkin CHAN 9889 [JW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Jeremiah (Symphony No 1) *
The Age of Anxiety (Symphony No 2) +

Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano) *
James Tocco (piano) +
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin conductor
Recorded Colosseum, Watford October 2000
CHANDOS CHAN 9889 [79.13]


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Bernstein’s orchestral panache – the flair and vibrancy of the writing – has never been quite enough to efface problems with his symphonic structures. Which is another way of registering doubts as to the architectural integrity of his symphonies. That said this disc makes a strong and consistently involving case for them, with excellent soloists, in good sound and a conductor who, though he met Bernstein only on a few occasions, is fully conversant with the medium and a noted exponent of it.

Bernstein made an early recording of Jeremiah with the St Louis orchestra in 1945 – his first studio recordings – and in that recording we can hear him grappling with orchestral limitations and his own neo-Stravinskian idiom. Though he re-recorded it twice and it was programmed by Reiner and Cantelli amongst others it hasn’t taken root in the way that, say, Piston’s or Harris’s have. Bernstein’s symphonies simply don’t command that stature. In the lento, final movement of Jeremiah some may, even now, prefer Nan Merriman’s lighter voice to the darker mezzo of Michelle DeYoung. There is something in Merriman’s voice that, through its simplicity and directness of articulation, deepens the passages from Lamentations. DeYoung’s expressivity is, however, entirely involving and committed. The Age of Anxiety, Symphony No 2, comes with the programmatic complexity of Auden’s poem of the same name, from which Bernstein derived not only title but also inner meaning. In his note Slatkin sensibly refuses to be drawn on the matter, preferring instead to see it as absolute music. He certainly delineates the Second Part, from The dirge to The epilogue with especial skill, layering climaxes with precision and relevant weight. Tocco is a tremendous soloist, unflagging and insightful. Bernstein recorded the symphony in 1950, 1965 and 1977 – only intermittently available – and this disc is a worthy alternative to the composer’s own.

As a bonus there’s the Divertimento, a waggish and winning series of vignettes. Slatkin deliciously points rhythms and brings out orchestral colours with abandon. The Turkey Trot is a riot and the Blues is a real low down thing – percussion and trumpet to the fore and not to be missed.

Jonathan Woolf

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