Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Transcriptions for Wind Band
Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F Kennedy (1961), orch. Sid Ramin [0:52]
Candide Overture (1956), transcr. Clare Grundman (1986) [4:51]
Symphonic Suite from 'On the Waterfront' (1954), transcr. Jay Bocook (2010) [19:52]
Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town' (1945), transcr. Marice Stith (1971) [10:24]
Divertimento (1980), transcr. Clare Grundman (1984) [14:56]
Candide Suite (1956), transcr. Clare Grundman (1993) [12:37]
University of South Carolina Wind Ensemble/Scott Weiss
rec. Koger Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia, South Carolina, 20-23 October 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.573056 [63:22]

This album is a follow-up of sorts to a disc Naxos released a couple of years ago, featuring Bernstein's early Violin Sonata and Piano Trio. The space was filled with three transcriptions, including two pleasant if dispensable arrangements for violin and piano of some of the composer's songs from the razzmatazz end of his output (review).
That CD fell, fairly reasonably on the whole, under Naxos's 'American Classics' brand, whereas the present release is to be filed under 'Wind Band Classics' ... or maybe not: six rather unconvincing arrangements for wind band of some of Bernstein's most popular music for stage and screen, plus one or two other bits and pieces of a similarly less than compelling character.
Making their debut for Naxos, the University of South Carolina Wind Ensemble under Scott Weiss do a good job. Their biographical note rather underwhelmingly describes them as "the premier wind band at the University of South Carolina", but they play Bernstein with accuracy and as much feeling as it is possible to muster for music of this nature or stature.
After the opening MGM-lite Kennedy Fanfare, the ubiquitous 'Candide' Overture, one of Bernstein's most overplayed pieces, appears in a wan transcription for wind band that does its best to turn a memorable orchestral work into something entirely forgettable. The Symphonic Suite from the film 'On the Waterfront' is like Bernstein's 'West Side Story' score but with fewer tunes, made more ineffectual still by this de-orchestration. The post-Gershwinian Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town' seem most at home in a wind band re-scoring, and are likely most fun for an ensemble to play. Then comes the showy, shallow eclecticism of the Divertimento before a second visit to the pages of 'Candide' for another of Clare Grundman's mediocre transcriptions. This work as well as any underlines the fact that Bernstein was, in the end, a better conductor than composer or thinker. His light-hearted music for the 'Auto-da-fé', where Pangloss and Candide are brutally tortured, is but one example of Bernstein's utter misreading of Voltaire's satire and sarcasm. His 'Candide' score has been widely praised for the last five decades, and it does indeed contain a lot of memorable melodies. As a theatrical spectacle too the operetta has its moments, but, as this arrangement makes clear, the music's lack of correspondence to the original spirit of the text is almost total.
The booklet notes open with Bernstein's comments, made in an open letter in 1966, that "the famous gulf between composer and audience is not only wider than ever: it has become an ocean", and that "electronic music, serialism [and] chance music [have] already acquired the musty odor of academicism." His pompous conclusion was that "Tonal music lies in abeyance, dormant," a statement which served only to demonstrate the extent of his ignorance of the breadth of music being composed at the time throughout Europe, the USA and beyond - an ignorance arisen mainly because he occupied centre stage in the musical establishment he imagined himself outside of. Whatever the facts, Bernstein's conviction led him to write the kind of proto-crossover music that is heard in this recording. Fans of Bernstein may like it, wind band amateurs may well derive inspiration from it, but everyone else will surely be better off keeping a hold on their money for something more interesting - Bernstein himself did better than this in fact.
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Bernstein himself did better than this.

See also review by Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month)


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