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Bernstein: Kaddish, Chichester Psalms, Missa Brevis /Slatkin


Release Date: 03/23/2004 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5028   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Ann MurrayJamie BernsteinPablo StrongSimon Baker
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony OrchestraBBC Symphony ChorusLondon Oratory School Schola,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 11 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This selection is a Hybrid Multichannel Super Audio CD. The Stereo Hybrid
SACD program can be played on any standard compact disc player. The DSD
Surround and Stereo programs require an SACD player for playback.
This selection is also available in standard CD format.

Fanfare Review:
It was a relief to read Jamie Bernstein’s note in which she expressed her serious reservations about her father’s “Kaddish” Symphony, most specifically with its text. She supposed her view was shared by many listeners. One of those listeners was me. I can still recall tearing the plastic shrink-wrap from the Columbia LP in anticipation when “Kaddish” was first issued, then listening with what developed into an unpleasant
Read more allergic reaction to the work. I was never able to get close to the music without enduring that over-the-top, maudlin, and even embarrassing text. They were difficult times in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, and Bernstein seemed to be tending in a direction I couldn’t follow. I removed the wrapper from this new Chandos recording with a nearly similar reluctance.

Having now heard this new “Kaddish” several times, I can report that we all—and especially those of us who love Leonard Bernstein—owe a great debt to Jamie Bernstein for allowing us to hear “Kaddish” through the medium of her own musical and thought-provoking text, much more palatable than the original. She constructs a moving gloss, part Talmudic and part Socratic on her father’s text, addressing him much as the composer addresses his Creator in the original. Her text is personal and intimate but never distracts from the music, letting one relish the connections to Chichester Psalms, a close cousin, and the clear references in the Invocation to the Adagio of the Mahler 10th Symphony, a work as unfinished as the Bernstein’s unending dialogue with himself and the listener. More Mahler, this time hints of the “Symphony of a Thousand,” can be heard in the angelic boys singing of “b’alma” near the Scherzo’s end. West Side Story makes occasional appearances, notably in parts of the Amen cadenza, superbly sung by the choir. Bernstein’s exuberant celebration of eclecticism reminds me of Britten’s Spring Symphony, a composition Bernstein admired and performed.

While Ms. Bernstein gives us a fresh opportunity to hear vintage Leonard Bernstein, thanks is also due to Leonard Slatkin, whose clear-headed, transparent rendering of the work helps in deciphering its many strands. If his reading lacks the pulsating energy and sensuality of L. B.’s original recording, who can compare with Bernstein conducting his own music? Nevertheless, Slatkin’s more objective performance may make repeated listening somewhat easier. Mezzo Soprano Anne Murray is fine in the painfully nostalgic setting of “Kaddish II.”

Chichester Psalms is closely related in material to “Kaddish,” though its optimistic mood betrays little of the symphony’s struggle. Here, Bernstein in the original CBS recording is untouchable and still preferable to his more studied DGG remake. Slatkin’s choir is very impressive and I particularly enjoyed the snarl of the male choristers in the setting of “Why do the Nations rage.” (Mervyn Cooke, in the liner note, writes that this material was originally set to the text “Make the sons of bitches pay” in a discarded version of the Prelude to West Side Story.)

Much as I enjoyed the superlative sound of the BBC Singers in the extended version of Missa brevis, it is a work in which I struggle to discern Bernstein’s voice. My fault, for sure, and I intend to keep listening.

Chandos’s SACD is demonstration quality. They have been making superior sounding recordings for so many years that I may be guilty of taking it for granted. The CD layer is equally fine.

Michael Fine, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 3 "Kaddish" by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Ann Murray (Mezzo Soprano), Jamie Bernstein (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Chorus,  London Oratory School Schola
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961-1963; USA 
Notes: In this performance, a text written by Jamie Bernstein is used. 
2. Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Pablo Strong (Treble)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965; USA 
3. Missa Brevis by Leonard Bernstein
Performer:  Simon Baker (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; USA 

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