Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
– Overture (1956) [4:15]
West Side Story: Symphonic Dances (1957) [22:29]
Fancy Free: Three Dances (1944) [17:27]
On the Waterfront
Suite (1954) [17:41]
Three Dance Episodes from On the Town (1946) [10:24]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. August 2016, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. DSD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from
BIS BIS-2278 SACD
Christian Lindberg, while not exactly an old hand in performing Bernstein’s
music, has done so before: on an album enitled Prelude, Fnugg and Riffs, BIS-CD-1625 –
– he plays an arrangement of Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,
together with music by ōyvin Baadsvik.
The inevitable, if unfair, comparison for this new recording is with
Leonard Bernstein’s own CBS versions with the New York Philharmonic of an
almost identical programme, but including the whole seven-movement Suite
from On the Town, not just the Three Dance Episodes.
(SMK63085, download only or stream from
Naxos Music Library)1. I listened to the new recording first and greatly enjoyed
all the performances, so that I confidently expected to find a detailed
comparison at least not much to its disadvantage.
It’s the earlier Bernstein
recordings, originally on CBS and now on Sony, that make
the best comparison. Towards the end of his life he adopted a more subdued
attitude to his music, as evidenced by his DG recording of the complete West Side Story, beautifully sung by Kiri te Kanawa, Josť Carreras,
Tatiana Troyanos, Kurt Ollman and Marilyn Horne, but is it echt
When he re-recorded the West Side Story Dances for DG, too, some of
the edge had gone off the music: these are beautiful performances with the
Los Angeles Philharmonic and better recorded than before, in DDD, but they
sound ever so slightly sedate, partly because a time of 20:55 had expanded
slightly to 23:05. Compensations there are, as in Somewhere, but
even the fact that these were live performances doesn’t quite do it for
me. (DG 4100252, with Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue and Prelude No.2,
Naxos Music Library.
Just the West Side Story Dances on DG 4778488, super-budget
price, download only).
No such inhibitions soften the impact of those earlier NYPO tapings for
CBS. Even without making detailed comparisons, the extra oomph is there.
The Candide Overture opens both programmes, with Lindberg capturing
all that you might think the music has to give. Listen then to Bernstein,
who shaves a mere five seconds off the time but who knocks you out of your
seat from the very first notes.
Bernstein enthusiast Marin Alsop has made several recordings of her
mentor’s music for Naxos, all recently gathered into an 8-CD + 1 DVD box
set (8.508018). On the Waterfront and the three dances from On the Town book-end the Chichester Psalms on 8.559177, all
with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra –
Alsop’s On the Waterfront is more deliberate in places than
Lindberg’s, coming in at 19:25, almost exactly Lennie’s own timing on CBS,
with both capturing the eeriness of the music perhaps slightly better than
the new recording. By the time that he recorded On the Waterfront
as an appendage to his DG West Side Story, Bernstein’s take on this music
had become more deliberate still, at 21:38, and the menace best
captured by his earlier self and Alsop – and, largely, by the new recording
– isn’t there.
Anyone purchasing the new BIS recording is unlikely to feel let down. The
recording is better than Alsop’s for Naxos or Bernstein’s for DG and much
better than the earlier CBS/Sony, especially in 24-bit download format or
on SACD from the high-definition layer. The Naxos is also available in
and at a very reasonable $7.18 (16-bit $4.78) but I haven’t been able to
hear it in that format. While I feel that Bernstein himself captured the
sheer energy of the music much better with the NYPO than on his own DG
remakes or Alsop or Lindberg, I’m very happy with both the newer recordings
on Naxos and BIS,
so long as I can still turn to the older New York recordings.
As I was tying up the loose ends of this review, I received Dan Morgan’s
take on this new recording for editing. I won’t try to summarise his
findings, except to say that we are largely in agreement about the virtues
of the new BIS and the necessity of still having Lennie’s own recordings to
Several other Sony/Bernstein albums, all download only, offer rather less of the
music. Even the 7-CD set Bernstein conducts Bernstein offers only the
three dances from On the Town, not the whole suite. (Sony