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Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Divertimento

Leonard Bernstein: Chichester / Various
Release Date: 11/22/2010 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 41121   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Tracey MillerDavis GainesLynda RichardsonKevin Colson,   ... 
Conductor:  Paavo JärviJohn McGlinnEric Ericson
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A good reminder of what an interesting and varied composer Bernstein could be.

Leonard Bernstein’s more serious works still have not really made it into the popular consciousness; at least not in the way that his music-theatre pieces have. In fact, I have to confess that I still find myself listening to Bernstein’s music and assigning it to the ‘interesting and well made’ category rather than putting the CD on the play-again pile. This disc from EMI is in their American Classics series and presents a selection of Bernstein’s music. As such it is laudable, but rather falls down on the slightly odd selection.
 
The disc opens with Divertimento for Orchestra, a piece written for the
Read more Boston Symphony Orchestra’s centenary in 1980. It is rather a compendium, with eight movements lasting a total of 11 minutes, which flash over a variety of Bernstein’s styles. In fact he re-uses a discarded movement from Prelude, Fugue and Riffs and the Samba movement could have been from West Side Story. This is one of those occasional pieces which, with hindsight, seem rather too self-referential. The performance from Paavo Järvi and the CBSO is entirely admirable and they manage Bernstein’s mix of styles with aplomb.
 
The last movement of Divertimento utilises a march which was originally written for the musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; this march in its original form, and the Duet for One are two items from the musical. The March is interesting from a compare-and-contrast point of view. The Duet is a tour de force, as the single vocalist - probably Judy Kaye, but the notes are unclear - sings both the incoming and outgoing first Ladies at a presidential inauguration. The performance is brilliant but she can’t quite disguise the fact that at ten minutes, the piece goes on too long.
 
This is followed by a charming trombone solo, which was written in 1948 in memory of Bernstein’s brother’s pet dog!
 
Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony is a stormy and difficult work, but one which deserves to be better known. Here it is represented by the lullaby from the second movement, a beautiful moment of calm which gives little idea of the character of the remaining symphony. Still, it is sung with superb poise by Barbara Hendricks and accompanied by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Eric Ericson. It makes me inclined to explore the complete recording.
 
Chichester Psalms is Bernstein’s best known serious work - the one which still eclipses all others. Except that in its re-use of material from West Side Story and the abandoned musical The Skin of Our Teeth it is typical of the cross-fertilisation present in Bernstein’s work. Truth to tell, a lot of the work’s infectious energy derives from its music-theatre origins. Here it is presented in a performance by Kings College Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury in Bernstein’s version for Organ, Harp and Percussion. The all-male choir does not bring that edge and excitement which mixed choirs can bring, but the original commission was for the choir of Chichester Cathedral so this style has its own authenticity. There are moments, particularly in the first movement, when the performance from the boys is rather more smudgy and less well defined than I would like. But the men’s interjections in the second movement are suitably venomous and the boy treble solo (uncredited) is pure and ethereal.
 
The disc finishes with a very fine performance of To what you said; the song was originally part of Song Fest but is here given in the version for voice and piano. I found Song Fest a little too over-stuffed and over-done for my taste but this distillation down to just two performers gives the work an intimacy which the bigger one lacks. The performance from Hampson and Rutenberg cannot be faulted.
 
I came away from this disc wondering why EMI had put these particular works together. There were hints of an interesting, but entirely different programme exploring Bernstein’s re-use of his material; it would be fascinating to hear Chichester Psalms performed alongside the original material. Here we seemed to be constrained by what EMI had available.
 
There is a brief essay about the music but the booklet contains no texts which might be a problem for those unfamiliar with these vocal works.
 
Still, the disc is a good reminder of what an interesting and varied composer Bernstein could be. I can’t say that there is any particular reason to buy it, but if the particular combination of works appeals then the performances are excellent and you won’t be disappointed.  

-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Divertimento for Orchestra by Leonard Bernstein
Conductor:  Paavo Järvi
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980; USA 
Venue:  Symphony Hall, Birmingham 
Length: 13 Minutes 44 Secs. 
2. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: The President Jefferson Sunday luncheon march by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Tracey Miller (Voice), Davis Gaines (Voice), Lynda Richardson (Voice),
Kevin Colson (Voice), Judy Kaye (Voice)
Conductor:  John McGlinn
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Date of Recording: 07/31/1991 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 5 Minutes 39 Secs. 
3. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Duet for One by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Lynda Richardson (Voice), Tracey Miller (Voice), Kevin Colson (Voice),
Judy Kaye (Voice), Davis Gaines (Voice)
Conductor:  John McGlinn
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
Venue:  No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 
Length: 10 Minutes 32 Secs. 
4. Elegy for Mippy no 2 by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Ian Bousfield (Trombone)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
Venue:  St. George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol 
Length: 1 Minutes 52 Secs. 
5. Symphony no 3 "Kaddish": Kaddish no 2 by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Barbara Hendricks ()
Conductor:  Eric Ericson
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1963; USA 
Length: 8 Minutes 5 Secs. 
6. Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  David Corkhill (Percussion), Rachel Masters (Harp), Peter Barley (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; USA 
Venue:  Chapel of King's College, Cambridge 
Length: 17 Minutes 15 Secs. 
7. Songfest: To What You Said by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (), Craig Rutenberg (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1977; USA 
Date of Recording: 10/1993/01/1994 
Venue:  London 
Length: 5 Minutes 38 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Divertimento for Orchestra: I. Sennets and Tuckets
Divertimento for Orchestra: II. Waltz
Divertimento for Orchestra: III. Mazurka
Divertimento for Orchestra: IV. Samba
Divertimento for Orchestra: V. Turkey Trot
Divertimento for Orchestra: VI. Sphinxes
Divertimento for Orchestra: VII. Blues
Divertimento for Orchestra: VIII. In Memoriam - March "The BSO Forever"
The President Jefferson March (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, 1976)
Duet for One (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue)
Elegy for Mippy II (for trombone alone)
Symphony No. 3, 'Kaddish': Kaddish 2
Chichester Psalms (reduced scoring): I. Urah, hanevel, v'chinor! (Pss. 108 & 100) (Maestoso ma energico - Allegro molto)
Chichester Psalms (reduced scoring): II. Adonai ro-i, lo ehsar (Pss. 23 & 2) (Andante con moto, ma tranquillo - Allegro feroce - Meno come prima)
Chichester Psalms (reduced scoring): III. Prelude - Adonai, Adonai (Pss. 131 & 133) (Sostenuto molto - Peacefully flowing)
To What You Said

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