Although this album is subtitled 'Leonard Bernstein on Broadway', much of the
material has been filmed. Even more appropriate are the bonus tracks that comprise
the West Side Story Symphonic Dances and Symphonic Suite: On the
Waterfront based on Bernstein's score for the Elia Kazan film,
the DVD of which is reviewed on this site this month. Bernstein's On the
Waterfront suite consists of six movements, opening atmospherically with
what might be regarded as an evocation of a misty dawn over a grey New York
skyline and dockyards. The tranquillity is disturbed by the sort of 'rumble'
music, marked Presto barbaro, for the early murder scene where the mob
throws an informer from a tenement rooftop, that one associates with the West
Side Story gang dances. So the pattern is set for Bernstein's highly evocative
and emotional score that juxtapositions figures of exquisite tenderness and
pathos with those of cold savagery. The haunting theme that emerges in the Andante
largamente, for the Eva Marie Saint character, is one of the most beautiful
that Bernstein penned. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer,
perfectly captures the music's brutality and fragility. The same orchestra with
Bernstein also shine in the shorter but just as vivacious 'Three Dance Episodes'
from On the Town.
The other major work in this compilation is another 20+ minute orchestral suite,
this time the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. All
the thrilling jazzy 'gang' dances are here plus Mambo and Cha-Cha and other
Latin dances etc. as well as the familiar well-loved romantic melodies like
'Somewhere' and 'Maria'. This performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, again
conducted by the composer, positively crackles with vitality.
Elsewhere there are numbers from the too-operatic Bernstein DG 1985 recording
of West Side Story (see DVD review of this production on this
site this month) that alas was not a success with a too-matronly sounding Kiri
Te Kanawa as Maria. More successful are Michael Ball's more vital and down-to-earth
rendering of 'Something's Coming', Sarah Vaughan's sultry jazzy take on 'I Feel
Pretty' and the Oscar Peterson Trio's swinging 'Tonight'; but Russell Watson's
'Somewhere' like his RPO's accompaniment is grotesquely OTT. More positively
there are numbers from the sparkling Michael Tilson Thomas recording of On
the Town with Thomas Hampson, David Garrison and Kurt Ollmann, and Frederica
Von Stade and Tyne Daly (so amusing in 'I Can Cook Too').
Equally enjoyable are the quirkily amusing Candide numbers and its vivacious
As usual DG is very economical in their reissue/compilation documentation –
just a list of numbers, artists and the recordings from which the excerpts come.
For the most part an enjoyable compilation and worth the price alone for The
West Side Story Symphonic Dances and the On the Waterfront