Monday, December 03, 2007

CD REVIEW: Bernstein bestseller!

December 3, 2007

Who is the Finnish conductor this person is talking about?? :)

James Manheim, All Music Guide

Don't be put off by the combination of a British orchestra and a Finnish conductor -- part of the appeal of Leonard Bernstein's music lay in the way he stood a bit aside from the jazz, Broadway, and popular dance rhythms he used. He thought he was struggling with the ascendancy of serialism, but actually he was attempting something much more significant -- a rapprochement between the popular and symphonic realism. Like Gershwin, his predecessor, he had a way of turning popular dances and forms inside out. On a more concrete level, conductor Paavo Järvi studied with Bernstein early in his career and approaches his music with gusto in these reissued performances featuring the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The program is a lot of fun and makes sense, offering four Bernstein works, all from different phases of his career, that involve different ways of treating popular materials. The performance of the opening Prelude, Fugue and Riffs of 1955, with clarinetist Sabine Meyer and pianist Wayne Marshall, crackles with energy. This work was as close as Bernstein came to straight jazz, and it stands up to Marshall's forward-pushing style. Surrounding the familiar Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (for which the orchestra imported a Broadway trumpeter) are works from the beginning and end of Bernstein's compositional career. Facsimile, a condensation of an early Bernstein ballet score, is the only work in which the performers seem to flag. The ballet tells the story of a young woman who is pursuing happiness through multiple sexual encounters but finds only emptiness. The music in Bernstein's suite moves from inertia into a sequence of dances, beginning with a waltz and moving forward in time. These dances need to get just a bit more frenetic as they go along, and in this performance the later ones don't have quite the zing they should. In the 1980 Divertimento for orchestra, however, Järvi perfectly catches the humor in this short suite of dances written for the centenary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This compilation does what a compilation should: it gives insights into an important aspect of a composer's musical personality. Worthy of strong consideration from anyone who wants a single Bernstein disc, or as a first step for anyone who wants to expand outward from West Side Story to Bernstein's concert works.

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