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CD: AmazonUS

The Music of America
Leonard BERNSTEIN
(1918-1990)
see end of review for tracklisting
SONY 88697 71772 2 [195:33]

Experience Classicsonline


CD 1
We kick off proceedings with the superheated sprint and flicker of the Candide Overture. It takes the breath away even in the broad romantic theme.
 
West Side Story is reflected in the Ramin and Kostal orchestration that makes up the Symphonic Dances. They’re all here: sleazy, laid-back, bluesy, woozily romantic, eager and rowdy. The highlight comes in the ever-so-on-your-toes Cha Cha. one can virtually see Bernstein's smile as well as his sentimentality in the Adagio finale where Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet must have had its influence. Spun silver meets a fine drizzle of Stateside lachrymose romance!
 
This version of the dry and witty Prelude, Fugue and Riffs has seen plenty of action on disc. Here is Benny Goodman holding on by his fingernails.
 
After three tapes from the 1960s we have Hilary Hahn's 1998 Serenade. Its transparency lets light and air into a piece which although more dynamic in the hands of Francescatti and Stern responds well to this more diaphanous and nuanced recording and approach from Hahn, Baltimore and Zinman. There’s a touch of Pulcinella in Aristophanes, of the Barber concerto in Ericymachus and of Schuman or and Glass in Agathon. It’s all most beautifully done by Hahn.
 
CD 2
Classic 1965 Britten meets New York pizzazz in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. The booklet, in common with the other four issues, is pretty thin on information and certainly no sign of the sung words. The Songfest is a cycle of 12 poems set for six singers and orchestra. Good to hear this Slatkin-conducted version from St Louis. This Britten-modelled anthologised structure ranges from portentous to histrionic. It is also touched with Copland's traditional queasy-wincey Old American Songs. There are two lovely - almost Sondheim-style - ballads in the shape of To My Dear and Loving Husband and Storyette HM.
 
Bernstein's Mass has been written about elsewhere on this site (Chandos; Naxos). A Simple Song is beautifully sung by Alan Titus - its popular sentimental roots show through and do no harm. To close the disc Marilyn Horne treats us to a group of gentle Bernstein songs with Martin Katz.
 
CD 3
This comprises groups of songs from West Side Story, On the Town, Wonderful Town and Candide. There's hardly a Latino DNA strand to be heard in the voices of Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence in Maria and Tonight but the magic flows like mercury still. Mind you - contrary to the critical consensus and my own expectations - I also enjoyed immensely DG's Te Kanawa West Side Story. Before we get to the 1957-recorded Somewhere ballet we have a bright 2009 America. The 1957 tapes have been very well revived indeed. 
 
On the Town 1960 recalls the world of Allegro (wonderfully given new life by Sony in their recent definitive set) in John Reardon's voice not to mention in those of Comden and Green. In Some Other Time there 's a real lump in the throat with the repeated words Oh well, we'll catch up some other time. I recall that I first heard this extraordinary and fragile song in that wonderful 1980s radio series Book, Music And Lyrics from Robert Cushman. There’s not a dry eye in the house but it’s not sentimental trash. It’s an irresistible hymn to sentiment with real power to move. By contrast I found little to like in the wince-making Wonderful Town.
 
Candide is a big flouncy piece of Hollywood, complete with orange blossom, cotton bolls and twirling sun parasols. It has real glitter and sentiment and delights in the Latino style in I'm easily assimilated. It ends with Make Our Garden Grow with what amounts to a touching hymn to Thoreau’s Walden. It’s not out of place that the listener may also sense the benevolent shadow or pre-echo of Copland's The Tender Land.
 
I had forgotten how powerful is Some Other Time but there is so much here to be reminded of and to smile about. Interestingly the sources are predominantly 1950s and 1960s before a degree of self-importance came into his music. I note that the selection also avoids the symphonies.

Rob Barnett

See also reviews of the Barber, Copland, Ives and Williams sets.

Tracklisting
CD 1 63:33
Overture to Candide, for orchestra 4:12
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
 
Symphonic Dances (9) from "West Side Story", for orchestra (orchestrated with Ramin & Kostal) 25:40
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein
 
Prelude, Fugue & Riffs, for clarinet & jazz ensemble 7:50
Benny Goodman (Clarinet) NYPO Leonard Bernstein
 
Serenade (after Plato: Symposium), for violin, harp, percussion & strings 30:29
Hilary Hahn (Violin) Baltimore Symphony Orchestra David Zinman
 
CD 2 68:38
Chichester Psalms, for boy soloist, chorus & orchestra 18:25
Camerata Singers (Choir, Chorus), John Bogart (Alto (Vocals)), New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein
 
Songfest, song cycle for 6 singers & orchestra or piano - (Opening Hymn. To the Poem) 39:47
John Cheek (Bass), Linda Hohenfeld (Soprano), Patricia Spence (Mezzo-Soprano), Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (Orchestra), Vernon Hartman (Baritone), Walter Plante (Tenor), Wendy White (Mezzo-Soprano) Leonard Slatkin
 
Mass, theatre piece for singers, players & dancers - (Hymn and Psalm: A Simple Song) 4:45
Alan Titus (Baritone), Berkshire Boy Choir (Boy's Choir), Norman Scribner (Choir, Chorus), Norman Scribner Choir (Choir, Chorus) Leonard Bernstein
 
Arias & Barcarolles (7 of 9 songs in this set are by Bernstein), for mezzo-soprano, baritone, strings & percussion (or piano duet) - (Nachspiel)
Marilyn Horne (Mezzo-Soprano), Martin Katz (Vocals), Martin Katz (Piano) 2:05
Arias & Barcarolles (7 of 9 songs in this set are by Bernstein), for mezzo-soprano, baritone, strings & percussion (or piano duet) - (Dream with Me) 3:32
 
CD 3 6347
West Side Story, musical - (Maria) 2:39
Carol Lawrence (Vocals), Jennifer Sanchez (Vocals), Karen Olivo (Vocals), Larry Kert (Vocals), Reri Grist (Vocals), Shark Girls (Vocals)
Max Goberman, Patrick Vaccariello
 
West Side Story, musical - (Tonight) 3:56
Carol Lawrence (Vocals), Jennifer Sanchez (Vocals), Karen Olivo (Vocals), Larry Kert (Vocals), Reri Grist (Vocals), Shark Girls (Vocals)
Conductor: Max Goberman, Patrick Vaccariello
 
West Side Story, musical - (America) 4:43
Carol Lawrence (Vocals), Jennifer Sanchez (Vocals), Karen Olivo (Vocals), Larry Kert (Vocals), Reri Grist (Vocals), Shark Girls (Vocals)
Max Goberman, Patrick Vaccariello
 
(Somewhere (Ballet)) 7:35
 
On the Town, musical - (Lonely Town) 6:44
On the Town, musical - (Lucky to Be Me) 2:55
Adolph Green (Vocals), Betty Comden (Vocals), Cris Alexander (Vocals), John Reardon (Vocals), Nancy Walker (Vocals) Leonard Bernstein
 
Wonderful Town, musical in 2 acts - (Ohio) 2:54
(A Little Bit in Love) 1:37
(A Quiet Girl) 2:23
(Conga!) 3:23
Jacquelyn McKeever (Vocals), Rosalind Russell (Vocals), Sydney Chaplin (Vocals)
Conductor: Lehman Engel
 
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (Paris Waltz) 1:37
Barbara Cook (Vocals), Irra Petina (Vocals), Max Adrian (Vocals), Norman Roland (Vocals), Robert Mesrobian (Vocals), Robert Rounseville (Vocals), William Chapman (Vocals)
 
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (The Best of All Possible Worlds) 3:23
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (It Must be So) 1:52
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (Glitter and Be Gay) 5:44
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (I'm Easily Assimilated) 3:33
Candide, operetta in 2 acts (Chelsea version) - (Make Our Garden Grow) 4:16

 


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