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. Seattle Opera House, 18 March 1990 (Bernstein), 5 January 1991 (Barber), 3 January 1990 (Diamond)
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559709 [47.02]
The main work on this CD is the reissue of the first recording of Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles in its version orchestrated by Bright Sheng under the supervision of the composer. Since it was originally issued twenty years ago we have become more acquainted with the music that Bright Sheng has composed on his account. It has to be said that the orchestral writing sounds far more like Bernstein than Sheng. The composer always intended to orchestrate the work itself - it was originally written for two voices and piano duet - but was prevented from doing so by ill-health; he died shortly thereafter. The ironic title refers to a remark made to Bernstein by Eisenhower in 1960 when the President said to him that he liked “music with a tune, not all of them arias and barcarolles and things”. Well, the song cycle - about love and marriage - has plenty of tunes, even if nothing quite as catchy as West Side Story, and has many lyrical moments as well as the expected Bernstein rhythms. The texts are mainly drawn from poems by the composer, and as usual Bernstein’s words have their full share of uncomfortably mawkish sentimentality as well as some unexpectedly comic touches which the booklet notes compare to Sondheim - who worked on West Side Story. There are no texts provided with this release, nor on the Naxos website although this may be counted as a possible blessing. The diction of both singers is sufficiently clear to make plenty of the words audible. The work itself is essentially rather lightweight, but has plenty of the Bernstein verve to keep it going. Whether you like it or not will depend on your reactions to some of Bernstein’s other personally committed works like the Mass or the Kaddish Symphony.The final wordless Nachtspiel is a touching elegy, the last piece that Bernstein ever wrote; it sounds even more ethereal in the unexpected combination of voices and piano duet, but works well here in its orchestral guise.
The overture The school for scandal was one of Barber’s earliest works. It launched his career with a bang; although it is described as “Overture to The School for Scandal” it was not written for any particular performance of the play, nor does it reflect individual incidents within it. It is a concert overture pure and simple, and great fun in its own right. There are two ways of playing it - fast and furious, or slower and more delicately. Schwarz steers a middle course, not as fast as some but with plenty of weight and colour. Am I the only listener who can detect the influence of Vaughan Williams’s Wasps Overture in the beautiful lyrical interlude at 1.50 - and even more so when it returns on the strings at 5.43?
When originally issued this disc also contained a recording of the complete Gershwin An American in Paris, including passages and repeats which the composer later deleted. This has been omitted from this reissue - which leaves rather short measure - but instead we have David Diamond’s tribute to his friend and mentor Ravel on his death. This work exists in two versions: this one for brass, percussion and harps and a later version for strings and percussion which Schwarz has also recorded. It is a surprisingly violent tribute, with elements of agony and protest as well the more elegiac music that the title would lead one to expect. The brass scoring emphasises this violence and some may well prefer the version scored for strings; the music itself remains the same, and both treatments are valid. Nevertheless the piece makes an oddly tragic companion for the other two pieces on this disc.
Buy this disc for the performance of Bernstein’s last major work if it appeals to you; the performances of all concerned are excellent. The other items are interesting or enjoyable makeweights. One should congratulate Naxos for making Schwarz’s invaluable series of recordings for Delos available again.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
The performances of all concerned are excellent.
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