April 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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LEONARD BERNSTEIN FEATURE

Compilation: New York, New York Music by Leonard Bernstein
featuring music from On the Waterfront; On the Town; West Side Story; and Candide  
  Russell Watson; Renée Fleming; José Carreras; Michael Ball; Thomas Hampson; Christa Ludwig; Kiri Te Kanawa; Sarah Vaughan; Frederica von Stade and Oscar Peterson Trio etc.
  Deutsche Grammophon 472 193-2   [143:32]

New York

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 overture.

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 Symphonic Suite.

Ian Lace

****

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