Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Violin Sonata, Piano Trio, New Transcriptions
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1941-2), arr. William Terwilliger for Violin and Piano (2008) [11:08]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1939) [16:00]
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1937) [16:02]
2 House Songs (1950, 1976) arr. Eric Stern for Soprano, Violin and Piano (2008) [8:10]
4 Moments from Candide arr. Eric Stern for Violin and Piano (2008) [16:21]
Opus Two (William Terwilliger (violin) and Andrew Cooperstock (piano))
Charles Bernard (cello) [Trio]
Marin Mazzie (soprano) [Songs]
rec. Cleveland State University August (Sonatas), November (Trio), December (Moments) 2008; Clinton Recording Studios, New York November (Songs) 2008. DDD.
NAXOS 8.559643 [67:42]
Some admirers of Bernstein's popular works may be surprised to learn that he wrote any chamber music. Well, there is not very much of it - this CD is essentially Bernstein's complete chamber works for violin. Even then, only two of them are genuine Bernstein - all but the Violin Sonata and the Piano Trio are arrangements.
In any case, with one minor exception these are all early works, giving a tantalising glimpse of a kind of 'parallel universe' Bernstein - one that did not take up an illustrious conducting career or devote himself to writing for musical theatre.
Bernstein composed the Piano Trio while still a teenager; it was not published until 1979. It is full of vigour and wit, and shows great promise. The two sonatas are both in two movements. The Sonata for Violin and Piano dates from 1939 according to the disc, 1940 according to New Grove. Its second movement is an exciting set of variations; this is the longest stretch of music by far on the CD, and, probably not coincidentally, the most profound. The Clarinet Sonata, in Terwilliger's splendid transcription, emerges as Bernstein's second violin sonata.
The last two works on the CD, the 'House' Songs and Four Moments from 'Candide' are really as much the work of Broadway conductor-arranger Eric Stern as they are of Bernstein. They were commissioned especially for this disc by Terwilliger and Cooperstock - as they put it in their note, "to fill out this recording"... but such a description does them less justice than they merit.
The Moments are four songs from Candide, 'I Am Easily Assimilated', 'You Were Dead, You Know', 'Glitter and Be Gay' and 'Make Our Garden Grow', genially and wittily shaped into a surprisingly attractive, and, especially in the riotous 'Glitter and Be Gay', virtuosic whole by Stern.
Of the two so-called 'House' songs, the first, 'My House', is again an early work, taken from Bernstein's 1950 incidental music for Barrie’s Peter Pan. The other, 'Take Care of this House' comes from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, written in 1976, Bernstein's penultimate dramatic work. Both songs are beautifully sung by Marin Mazzie, who has oodles of experience in this kind of repertory, which might be termed the 'serious end' of musical theatre.
These two pieces do feel a little out of place on an otherwise entirely instrumental disc - Bernstein's piano sonata would have been a more obvious fit. On the other hand, some might find the songs a welcome interlude - in which case, they may have been more thoughtfully placed before the Piano Trio. At any rate, it could be argued that adding an extra element to Bernstein's original voice and piano - the orchestrations for Peter Pan and 1600 were not his - is a merely academic exercise; but the songs do cohere well as a pair and, as with the Moments, the result is rather haunting.
Terwilliger and Cooperstock perform splendidly throughout, and the recording is excellent. The artwork on the front of the CD is best described as trendy, as is the phrase in the booklet notes that reveals that Opus Two have "concertized extensively". But in all other respects the CD represents a worthy purchase for all fans of Bernstein and of mid-20th century American chamber music.
A worthy purchase for all fans of Bernstein and of mid-20th century American chamber music.