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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Broadway to Hollywood
Candide, overture [4.52]
On the Waterfront, symphonic suite [21.20]
Fancy Free, complete ballet [20.20]
West Side Story, symphonic dances [23.44]
On the Town, two dance episodes:
Lonely Town [3.12]
The Great Lover [2.07]
Hannover Philharmonie/Iain Sutherland
rec. live 1993, Studios of NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hannover
SOMM ARIADNE 5002 [75.20]

The music of Leonard Bernstein continues its great popularity in the concert hall and on record, especially in 2018 the centenary year of his birth. Only a couple of weeks ago I reviewed a fine recording of Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place (review). To celebrate the Bernstein centenary the Somm label on its Ariadne series has reached into the archives for this live 1993 broadcast recording from the Hannover Philharmonie. Actually 1993 was the seventy-fifth anniversary year of Bernstein’s birth which was probably the reason for the concert. Now being issued for the first time it’s curious that this recording has taken twenty-five years to surface.

The programme opens with the much-loved overture to the operetta Candide (1956). With its distinct flavour of Offenbach, and Gilbert and Sullivan the overture has secured a permanent place in the orchestral repertoire. It’s a fine performance from Sutherland but other accounts have additional vibrancy notably Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1960 on CBS Masterworks.

Bernstein wrote the film score for Elia Kazan’s classic crime film On the Waterfront (1954) starring Marlon Brando. It won eight Academy Awards but although nominated it wasn’t successful in the category for best music score which was won by Dimitri Tiomkin for The High and the Mighty. Bernstein didn’t particularly enjoy the Hollywood experience and lamented the lost music from his score that ended up on the cutting room floor. The symphonic suite is a substantial, integrated single movement score not an assortment of pieces. Sutherland and his players develop an often cold, stark beauty with an unsettling sense of disorientation, while a feeling of menace is never far away.

A real treat is the ballet score to Bernstein’s Fancy Free (1944) choreographed by Jerome Robbins. With a scenario concerning sailors on shore leave in New York City the première on Broadway was a great success with the audience demanding two dozen curtain calls. Sutherland conducts all eleven movements of the complete score. Infused with jazz and Latin rhythms Sutherland provides a pulsating performance that feels strutting and flamboyant with a lovely unity from the orchestra.

Fancy Free was the inspiration for Bernstein’s full length musical On the Town (1944) with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Also a tremendous success, it was introduced on Broadway in 1944 and was subsequently made into a film in 1949. Here Sutherland conducts stylish performances of two dance episodes from the musical, ‘Lonely Town’ notable for the striking wind playing and ‘The Great Lover’ given formidable energy and buoyancy.

Bernstein, with Robbins, went on to collaborate on another Broadway classic West Side Story, a landmark American stage work feted by both admirers of musical theatre and opera lovers. Inspired by Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story (1957) is a musical based on a book by Arthur Laurents with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. On Broadway it originally ran for around 730 performances and the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins was an overwhelming success, winning ten Academy Awards. Under Bernstein’s supervision his orchestrators Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal prepared the Symphonic Dances (1961) from West Side Story as a separate concert work. Incidentally Bernstein hadn’t conducted a full staging of the show or even a recording of the complete score until 1985 on Deutsche Grammophon but he had conducted the Symphonic Dances and I especially admire his 1982 account with Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon. Stepping up to the plate, Sutherland captures a vivid array of colours from his Hannover players, from the heartbreaking beauty of Tony and Maria’s love to the gang violence of the Sharks and Jets, whilst avoiding any unwanted exaggeration.

Recorded live in 1993 at studios of NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hannover the remastered tapes have an agreeable sound quality, being clear and well balanced. There is applause at the conclusion of each work but thankfully no annoying yelling. Easy to read, the booklet essay written by Robert Matthew-Walker is informative and there is a short biography of conductor Iain Sutherland provided, but no information about the orchestra. For those who like to know these things, the Hannover Philharmonie is the name given to a freelance orchestra formed for commercial recording sessions.

Throughout the performance which is well-paced and balanced by Iain Sutherland the Hannover Philharmonie provide crisp playing that has real punch yet subtlety when needed. It was undoubtably an entertaining live concert in Studios of NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hannover but despite the merits of this enjoyable album the competition in the catalogues is extremely fierce. Many Bernstein admirers will already have cherished recordings of these works conducted by the composer himself on CBS and Deutsche Grammophon, which are virtually impossible to ignore.

Michael Cookson

Previous reviews: Nick Barnard ~ Ian Lace



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