Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Arias and Barcarolles (1988)* [31.38]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
The school for scandal (1931) [8.08]
David DIAMOND (1915-2005)
Elegy in memory of Maurice Ravel (1937) [7.16]
*Jane Bunnell (mezzo); Dale Duesing (baritone)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. 18 March 1990 (Bernstein), 5 January 1991 (Barber), 3 January 1990 (Diamond), Seattle Opera House, Seattle, USA
If one were to cite just one example of Gerard Schwarz’s devotion to American music it must be his Howard Hanson cycle; first released on Delos and now reissued by Naxos - as was this review disc - it’s been favourably reviewed by me and several others on this site. The playing of the Seattle orchestra is nothing less than excellent, as is the sound quality, so the Hanson box - which must surely follow soon - will be a mandatory purchase for anyone interested in this repertoire. 
Schwarz also gave the first performance of Bernstein’s Arias and barcarolles in 1989; originally written for two voices and piano it was subsequently orchestrated - under the composer’s supervision - by composer Bright Sheng. Regrettably - some might say thankfully - Bernstein’s lyrics aren’t printed in the liner-notes or on the Naxos website. Even the staunchest Lenny fans - and I’m one of them - would have to admit that he’s not at his best with his own words. These songs of love and marriage are no exception, the muscular music of the Prelude - more than a hint of West Side Story - somewhat undermined by the charmless vocal writing.
Bunnell and Duesing make the best of it, but the real problem here is that Bernstein is justtoo eclectic in his references; for instance, he often resorts to the jovial patter of a Broadway duet, but it tends to sound passionless without the pizzazz. As for the more operatic peaks of Little Smary, they’re just too overpowering. There are some tender songs - The Love of my life and Greeting come to mind - but they promise rather more than the score actually delivers. The disjuncts don’t end there; the dark tones of At my wedding find Duesing mired in a swamp of sentimentality, and I’m not at all convinced by the soloists’ attempts at comedy in the jaunty Mr and Mrs Webb say goodnight. That said, Nachspiel has a certain charm, Bunnell and Duesing at their entwined best.
After that rather pallid start it’s a relief to hear Barber’s feisty overture, The school for scandal. As Paul Schiavo points out in the booklet there’s no link to Sheridan’s play or to the characters therein; what we get instead is a lithe and propulsive little number, delivered with real panache by Schwarz and his orchestra. The upfront recording is pretty good too, the harp swirls, scything brass and bass-drum thuds delivered with equal aplomb. Not quite as attractive in terms of warmth and body as those Hanson issues, but certainly fit for purpose.
David Diamond’s music isn’t as widely performed as it should be, but until it is we have Schwarz’s Delos recordings - reissued by Naxos - to enjoy. Diamond studied in France in the 1930s and knew Ravel, for whom this elegy was written. It’s a startling piece - bright and angular, yet still very accessible - and the brass writing is very assured, whether it’s big and brazen or disarmingly quiet. Indeed, there’s plenty of the latter, with Schwarz coaxing nicely nuanced playing from his band. A most satisfying conclusion to an otherwise uneven programme.
Worth hearing for the Barber and Diamond; the Bernstein is eminently forgettable.
Dan Morgan

see also review by Paul Corfield Godfrey

Worth hearing for the Barber and Diamond; the Bernstein is eminently forgettable.