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Leonard BERNSTEIN(1918-1990) Transcriptions for Wind Band
Fanfare for the Inauguration of John F Kennedy (1961), orch. Sid Ramin
Candide Overture (1956), transcr. Clare Grundman (1986) [4:51]
Symphonic Suite from 'On the Waterfront' (1954), transcr.
Jay Bocook (2010) [19:52]
Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town' (1945), transcr.
Marice Stith (1971) [10:24]
Divertimento (1980), transcr. Clare Grundman (1984) [14:56]
Candide Suite (1956), transcr. Clare Grundman (1993) [12:37]
University of South Carolina Wind Ensemble/Scott Weiss
rec. Koger Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia, South Carolina,
20-23 October 2011. DDD NAXOS 8.573056 [63:22]
This album is a follow-up of sorts to a disc Naxos released a couple
of years ago, featuring Bernstein's early Violin Sonata and
Piano Trio. The space was filled with three transcriptions, including
two pleasant if dispensable arrangements for violin and piano of some
of the composer's songs from the razzmatazz end of his output
That CD fell, fairly reasonably on the whole, under Naxos's
'American Classics' brand, whereas the present release
is to be filed under 'Wind Band Classics' ... or maybe
not: six rather unconvincing arrangements for wind band of some of
Bernstein's most popular music for stage and screen, plus one
or two other bits and pieces of a similarly less than compelling character.
Making their debut for Naxos, the University of South Carolina Wind
Ensemble under Scott Weiss do a good job. Their biographical note
rather underwhelmingly describes them as "the premier wind band
at the University of South Carolina", but they play Bernstein
with accuracy and as much feeling as it is possible to muster for
music of this nature or stature.
After the opening MGM-lite Kennedy Fanfare, the ubiquitous 'Candide'
Overture, one of Bernstein's most overplayed pieces, appears
in a wan transcription for wind band that does its best to turn a
memorable orchestral work into something entirely forgettable. The
Symphonic Suite from the film 'On the Waterfront' is
like Bernstein's 'West Side Story' score but
with fewer tunes, made more ineffectual still by this de-orchestration.
The post-Gershwinian Three Dance Episodes from 'On the Town'
seem most at home in a wind band re-scoring, and are likely most fun
for an ensemble to play. Then comes the showy, shallow eclecticism
of the Divertimento before a second visit to the pages of 'Candide'
for another of Clare Grundman's mediocre transcriptions. This
work as well as any underlines the fact that Bernstein was, in the
end, a better conductor than composer or thinker. His light-hearted
music for the 'Auto-da-fé', where Pangloss and Candide
are brutally tortured, is but one example of Bernstein's utter
misreading of Voltaire's satire and sarcasm. His 'Candide'
score has been widely praised for the last five decades, and it does
indeed contain a lot of memorable melodies. As a theatrical spectacle
too the operetta has its moments, but, as this arrangement makes clear,
the music's lack of correspondence to the original spirit of
the text is almost total.
The booklet notes open with Bernstein's comments, made in an
open letter in 1966, that "the famous gulf between composer and
audience is not only wider than ever: it has become an ocean",
and that "electronic music, serialism [and] chance music [have]
already acquired the musty odor of academicism." His pompous
conclusion was that "Tonal music lies in abeyance, dormant,"
a statement which served only to demonstrate the extent of his ignorance
of the breadth of music being composed at the time throughout Europe,
the USA and beyond - an ignorance arisen mainly because he occupied
centre stage in the musical establishment he imagined himself outside
of. Whatever the facts, Bernstein's conviction led him to write
the kind of proto-crossover music that is heard in this recording.
Fans of Bernstein may like it, wind band amateurs may well derive
inspiration from it, but everyone else will surely be better off keeping
a hold on their money for something more interesting - Bernstein himself
did better than this in fact.