Notes and Editorial Reviews
“After Plato’s Symposium”
Symphony No. 2,
“The Age of Anxiety”
Leonard Bernstein, cond; Gidon Kremer (vn);
Krystian Zimerman (pn);
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001227309 (DVD: 94:00) Live: Vienna 10/5–22/1984;
Teachers and Teaching, An Autobiographical Essay by Leonard Bernstein
This is a fairly rare outing for Bernstein’s Divertimento, a piece written for the Boston Symphony’s centennial in 1980. It consists of seven brief sections and an extended finale; the music recalls everything he—and a few others—had written. “Samba” could be inserted into
West Side Story
without a hitch; “Sphinxes” plays cleverly with the 12 tones. The Vienna Philharmonic is a bit square at times, but the performance works beautifully on video, extreme close-ups making the most of the work’s concerto-for-orchestra qualities. The Musikverein acoustics are a joy, and the DTS 5.1 surround sound envelops the listener, but
passages can become a bit harsh.
The London Barbican’s acoustics are of a duller cast, but the free-swinging LSO is perhaps the most effective European orchestra for Bernstein’s music. Before the Serenade “After Plato’s Symposium” begins, Bernstein tells an interviewer what he found so attractive in this particular dialogue. When one switches on this DVD’s subtitles (English, German, French, Spanish, or Chinese), a brief explanation of each speech appears at the beginning of its music, a nice touch. I find Kremer’s tone a bit dry for the piece, and each Bernstein recording seems more conservative than the last. I still favor Isaac Stern’s first recording, in mono, with the New York Philharmonic; Francescatti’s stereo one comes next, followed by Kremer with the Israel Philharmonic.
Bernstein speaks again before “The Age of Anxiety,” explaining the moods and intent of his representation of Auden’s poem. The performance is a total success; this is one work that benefits from the older Bernstein’s weightier approach to all music (half-hidden behind the piano, he still manages to levitate, at age 68). Zimerman matches the jazzy syncopations of both Bernstein in Koussevitzky’s 1949 premiere (in the BSO’s 12-CD “Symphony Hall Centennial Celebration”) and Lukas Foss in the first commercial recording (1950 Columbia mono, Sony 60588). Zimerman doesn’t emulate their frenzy, partly because of Bernstein’s slower 1988 tempos, and the piece is better for it. The pianist maintains an elegant panache throughout, and his subtle, sensitive playing helps make the Epilogue more convincing than it has been before. The LSO is equally fine, playing with both rigor and freedom. Even the acoustics seem better than in the Serenade, although it is all one concert. I have one quibble with the video image: a recurring close-up of the piano keyboard reverses normal perspective, making the bass keys longer than the treble ones, and Zimerman’s left hand larger than his right. An artist friend points out that the vanishing point is in front of the piano instead of being in the distance, where it belongs. Once noticed, this becomes all the more annoying because one can’t figure out how it happened.
All of which would add up to an enthusiastic recommendation, which the bonus track raises over the moon. Bernstein wrote and narrated an hour-long video essay, filled with delightful musical examples. Others (Foss, Michael Tilson Thomas, Peter Schmidl of the Vienna Philharmonic, Seiji Ozawa, Zimerman) tell of their musical histories with him. His basic point is that teaching and learning are not opposites, but are the same thing. He is, as always, convincing. In the course of this, he honors his many teachers: Isabelle Vengerova, Mitropoulos, Reiner, Koussevitzky. “I revere and worship Aaron Copland for what he taught me about what
to write—what to throw away.” He gives his spot-on impersonations of Koussevitzky and Reiner. Many parts of the essay—in particular, Tilson Thomas’s description of learning Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony from Bernstein—are gut-splittingly funny. There are dim early-television scenes from his
Young People’s Concerts
, snippets of Bernstein-led performances in Vienna (Mozart’s K 525, Ravel’s Concerto in G, the “Rhenish,” the Brahms B? with Zimerman,
, Beethoven’s Eighth, Mahler’s Fifth). The excerpts have been cannily chosen: for the moment, at least, each is the perfect performance. The many scattered elements of this documentary are seamlessly woven into a consistent, fascinating whole—the best of all possible Bernstein documentaries.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Divertimento for Orchestra by Leonard Bernstein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1980; USA
Symphony no 2 "Age of Anxiety" by Leonard Bernstein
Krystian Zimerman (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1949; USA
Be the first to review this title