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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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The Leonard Bernstein Collectors Edition: The Americans
Barber - Bloch - Copland - Foss - Gershwin - Harris - Ives - Rorem - Schuman - Del Tredici

CD 1
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Arr. F.GROFÉ
Rhapsody in Blue [17:07]
Leonard Bernstein (piano)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Three Preludes for Piano Solo [04:22]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein [10:02]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959) Schelomo [24:34]
Mischa Maisky (cello)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
CD 2
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Symphony No. 3
Quiet City for Cor Anglais, Trumpet and Strings [10:35]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein, Philip Smith (trumpet), Thomas Stacy (cor anglais)
Appalachian Spring - (Ballet for Martha) [26:34]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
CD 3
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
El salón Mexico [12:00]
Concerto For Clarinet:
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein, Stanley Drucker (clarinet)
Music For The Theatre (1925)
Connotations For Orchestra (1961-62): [20:29]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
CD 4
Roy HARRIS (1898-1979) Symphony No. 3 in one movement [18:27]
William Howard SCHUMAN (1910-1992) Symphony No. 3; American Festival Overture [09:23]
CD 5
Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Symphony No. 2
The Gong on the Hook and Ladder or Firemen's Parade on Main Street [02:16]
Tone Roads No. 1 [03:16]
Largo cantabile "Hymn" [03:43]
Hallowe'en [01:56]
Central Park in the Dark [07:11]
The Unanswered Question [06:07]
CD6
David Del TREDICI (b.1937) Tattoo [18:05]
Ned ROREM (b. 1923) Violin Concerto [23:32]
Lukas FOSS (b.1923) The Song of Songs - Biblical Cantata for voice and orchestra [28:29]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (American Festival Overture)
Sheri Greenawald (sop) (Foss)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein (Foss)
Rec. live 1982-1989
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 940-2 [56:30 + 80:56 + 74:06 + 60:42 + 67:34 + 70:14]


Many American composers owed much to Leonard Bernstein for his charismatic championship of their music. The largest harvest of these recordings was made for CBS and many of these have found their way into the CD realm through Sony Classics. Highlights among those many recordings of the rarer pieces are the E.B. Hill Prelude, Diamond Symphony No. 4, the Third Symphonies of Roy Harris and William Schuman and the irrepressibly lively Randall Thompson Second Symphony. Most of these were made with the NYPO in the 1960s; some in the 1950s.

While the CBS legacy is very much the rich tap-vein there is bound to be curiosity about his late harvest from 1982 onwards with Deutsche Grammophon. Those discs did not hold the catalogue all that well so the time is more than ripe for a fresh appraisal. They were made with a variety of orchestras and most of them are taken down from live performances. They are all the more valuable because they catch Bernstein without the contrivance and artificiality of the studio to stand between us and his audience. The only studio exception is Coplandís Quiet City on CD2.

Taking the Gershwin Rhapsody for a start, Bernstein repeats his party piece of both playing the piano and directing the LAPO at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco in July 1982. His approach to the piece is another example of Bernsteinís idiosyncratically expansive approach. The sound is very good and clear but this is not the most lively version. I now prefer the Tilson Thomas version for piano and jazz band (Sony Classics). Almost certainly as an encore Bernstein plays Prelude no. 2 for piano. By contrast the weightily broad Barber Adagio running to 10:05 works superlatively well - grave and resonant - the LAPO strings sincere and glowing rather than Hollywood slick and chrome. Maisky is always worth hearing and his version of Blochís Schelomo is soulful. It was recorded with the cello very much up-front at the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv during June 1988 and when first issued in 1990 it was coupled with the DvořŠk Cello Concerto. The sound is healthy and various details in this problematic work came into sharp focus for me for the first time. Criticism of the problematic sound of the recording when first issued seems to have resulted in remedial work. The detail of the orchestra is rendered with satisfying transparency revealing the workís almost sinister dialogue.

Copland was very much a mainstay of Bernsteinís CBS catalogue although the composer himself made more recordings of his own music for that label. Bernstein recorded Coplandís Third Symphony for the last time with his own orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall, New York in December 1985. This is given a weighty reading especially apparent in the fourth of the four movements in which extensive use of Fanfare for the Common Man is used. It is all perhaps rather oppressive and hectoring but a memento of the times when democracy was under threat and reflecting a grip on idealism amongst the squalor and tragedy of a world at war. It is given an imposing recording with a more believable aural landscape than the equivalent CBS-Sony version from the 1960s. Quiet City is a dialogue between English Horn and Trumpet. The traditional full orchestra Appalachian Spring suite is given a tenderly limned reading with every detail registering with often tellingly gentle effect. It is here presented in a single track playing 26:36. It is good to hear this version again from time to time but I do prefer Coplandís own version of the full ballet for thirteen instruments. The suite was recorded at the same LAPO concerts as the Gershwin Rhapsody. It is presented without any of the personality overlay felt in the Gershwin. This second CD is extremely generously packed seconds over the 80 minute threshold.

More Copland follows on CD3. In fact Copland has by far the largest representation in the box with two CDs dedicated to him. Made four years after the Third Symphony recording Bernstein and the NYPO allowed the DG engineering team into the Avery Fisher Hall again in October 1989 and CD3 is the result. In El Salon Mexico Bernstein is in his element with music that could have been written for him. Certainly he knew the score intimately having prepared the piano reduction for the composer from the full score shortly after it had been written. from The recording is spectacular and the bass drum thwacks at 10:53 still vibrate the light fittings and reverberate against the rib-cage. Stanley Drucker by then an old-timer with the NYPO gives a most tender, kindly, mercurial and virtuosic reading of the Clarinet Concerto. Druckerís way with the more lyrically singing music had me reconsidering my prejudices against this work. This is by the far the best recording of it that I have heard. The five part suite Copland called Music for the Theatre is spare, Stravinskian, circus-brash and humane. The languid singer can be heard in the lazy stroll in the third movement of the five. The disc traces Coplandís progress from the accessible Salon via stages of sophistication until we reach the ultima thule of Connotations which is both imposing and thorny; one of Coplandís serial compositions. Was he really such a dedicated follower of fashion? It remains a vivid and anguished testament.

Moving away from the fashionable mainstream Bernstein returned to record for a second time a work that in its salty massed strings influenced Bernsteinís own First Symphony Jeremiah, the Roy Harris Third Symphony. This fine work Bernstein would have learnt from his mentor Koussevitsky who himself recorded the symphony for RCA. Would that Bernstein had also taken up the Harris Seventh Symphony. The tautness and intensity of this present version is slightly inferior to the recordings Bernstein made for CBS and which are available with Randall Thompson 2 and Schuman 3 on a single CD. Nevertheless the luminously plangent and glowingly weighty sound makes hearing this Harris 3 a real pleasure. The evolutionary uncoiling of lyrical woodwind phrases at 8.02 and the light-filled writing between 08.00 and 0900 communicates with great beauty. The engineers happily articulated the magical translucency of this score complete with the softly resonating strikes of the vibraphone at 0910. They also put across the massed string and brass episodes which abound including the feral dance at 13.05 onwards. The work ends as if with a premonition of a world soon to be at war. The William Schuman symphony is an even stronger work with compelling claims on the attention and repeat listening time of anyone interested in the 20th century symphony. Those searing long string lines groan and sing in light and in darkness. There are steely angularities, clamorous brass, sinister woodwind dances at (tr.5 00.48) and an irresistibly exciting Toccata finale where apocalypse vies with victory. This is overlaid at the close with a typically vibrant thrumming powerhouse of energy goaded on by eruptive trumpets and the side-drumís metalled band-shots, vibrant and rhythmically intricate. This music positively flies in glory and is part of an international heritage which everyone should claim. Originally the two Thirds were issued together on one CD from a concert at Avery Fisher in December 1985 on 419 780-2GH. Here the two symphonies are joined by Schumanís busily detailed American Festival Overture suitably marked allegro con spirito. It is more raucous fun than sustenance. Such a pity that another work that Bernstein premiered with the NYPO in 1968 was never commercially recorded. What a superb opportunity was lost in not recording Howard Hansonís Sixth Symphony from 1968; every bit the equal of the Harris and Schuman symphonies.

The Fifth disc is all-Ives and is a direct take from 429 220-2GH recorded in Avery Fisher between 1986 and 1987. After the Second Symphony with its rambunctiously non-conformist finale there are a number of rare works before we get to Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question. The Gong on the Hook manages to be at once gripping, threatening and discordant. Tone Roads No. 1 makes you at first think that it is going to be simply jaunty. However it soon becomes angular and anxious. Hymn No. 1 is a touching piece and comparatively straightforward in its way with More Love to Thee. Halloweíen has the soloistic strings taking eldritch fugal wing before orchestral piano and percussion join the Walpurgis-mêlée. To break the mood Ives ends the piece with an anarchic couple of gesture chords snatched from Beethoven. These are fascinating pieces the more attractive because of their enigmatic concision. Then we get those two masterpieces: the mystery of Central Park in the Dark and an American Tallis in the shape of The Unanswered Question. In the latter the strings are recorded with moving sensitivity and the meditative mood is superbly sustained; such remarkable concentration.

The last disc matches Del Tredici (well known for his sequence of Alice works - whatever happened to them - will anyone revive them?) with the two contemporaries Rorem and Foss. Itís a valuable disc. What to make of the Del Tredici? Itís in the nature of a self-indulgent concerto for orchestra, tonal, brilliant and seething with incident and not with anything remotely serial or dodecaphonic. The second movement Omaggio alludes to Mahler and Paganini. Roremís six movement Violin Concerto is lyrical with cross-winds from Berg modestly caught in the rigging. Rorem also wrote a piano concerto in six movements. Would that Bernstein had taken up Roremís early orchestral fantasies Lions and Eagles. They certainly drew championship from Stokowski, Kunzel and Torkanowsky and are most beautiful works - especially Lions which in its slightly dreamy-dissonant way can be seen as an evolution from Griffesí masterpiece The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan. Itís also a pity that Bernstein did not record the Rorem works he took up in the concert hall such as the 1978 suite Sunday Morning. The Romance and Midnight movements of the Concerto are lyrical and approachable. The haywire spider-web scattiness of the brief Toccata is attractive although not perhaps taken as marked by the composer: Very Fast. The finale Dawn relates back to the first movement. Fossís Song of Songs has not been issued previously. It is a four movement half hour song cycle (for which the words are provided in full in the booklet). The recording is here issued for the very first time. It was written in 1946. The soprano role is taken by American soprano Sheri Greenawald; now artistic director of San Francisco Opera. The tape was taken from a performance in Paris in 1986. The style is florid, word-repetitive, lyrical-dramatic and rather like Samuel Barber without quite his total romantic saturation. The songs track through awakening, the urgent contentment of young love, the pain of separation and the testament of confidence in the redeeming reuniting power of love. It is by no means as sensuous as Barber (and he could be very sensuous as we know from the intensely erotic orchestral song cycle The Lovers - Koch 3-7125-2H1) or Rorem. His style is a sort of hybrid of Barber, Coplandís Tender Land and Tippett in the more lyrical passages in A Child of Our Time. There are attractive things here but it is not totally successful. I am not at all sure that the musical material consistently has the distinction or memorability factor that makes the work utterly magnetic and Ms Greenawald has an operatic fruitiness that is not wholly consonant with the mood of the words.

There is a good if pretty succinct note by David Gutman. We get plenty of discographical detailing and there are Bernstein and soloist photos. Was it a DG or Bernstein thing that the photos taken have Bernstein striking Karajan-like poses. The cover photo in particular recalls Karajanís self-absorption.

Essential listening for Bernstein adherents and for anyone who has already fallen for the American Adventure. Bernsteinís adroit no-holds-barred approach to music-making establishes new friends for old favourites and fresh discoveries. Performances vivid and often brimming with life. Bernstein brought to this repertoire the unbridled spirit he brought to his ground-breaking Mahler; nothing dutiful or workaday.

Rob Barnett



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