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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Seven Anniversaries (1942-43) [10:03]
Four Anniversaries (1948) [6:29]
Five Anniversaries (1949-51) [6:55]
Thirteen Anniversaries (1964-88) [20:28]
Touches: Chorale, Eight Variations and Coda (1980) [9:08]
Sonata for the Piano (1938) [16:39]
Non Troppo Presto (1937) [2:23]
Music for the Dance, No. II (1938) [4:43]
Four Sabras (1950s) [5:59]
El Salón Mexico (1936, arr. Bernstein) [10:26]
Bridal Suite: In 2 Parts with 3 Encores (1960) [10:42]
Andrew Cooperstock (piano)
rec. 2015, Grusin Recital Hall, University of Colorado, Boulder.
BRIDGE RECORDS 9485A/B [44:09 + 60:13]

Released to celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, this collection represents his entire solo piano works plus the Bridal Suite for piano duet as a bonus. Bernstein started out as a pianist and, as the dates for the Anniversaries show, composed for the instrument throughout his distinguished career, and one which he described as his "first love." In contrast to the blockbuster works such as West Side Story with which he made his name, these pieces are largely brief and quite gentle and intimate in nature. The Anniversaries are each dedicated to people who were important to Bernstein, including fellow composers such as Aaron Copland and David Diamond, as well as family members and giants of musical life such as Serge Koussevitzky. The strength of these is in their collected value. While each piece is a gem of its kind, the whole adds up to and equals any of set of preludes from the past, Andrew Cooperstock citing Chopin and Debussy as examples.

CD 2 opens with one of Bernstein's last piano works, Touches: Chorale, Eight Variations and Coda. This is a serious piece that was written for the 1980 Val Cliburn International Piano Competition, but is by no means a vehicle for mere display. The title 'Touches' has multiple meanings, and a variety of styles and approaches to both playing and composing, forming a retrospective musical canvas that takes us back as far as Bernstein's early appreciation for Aaron Copland's Piano Variations.

The Sonata for the Piano is an early piece dating from Bernstein’s studies at Harvard. While clearly in search of and yet to find a fully formed individual voice this is still a technically confident and well constructed work. Shards of jazzy verve shine through, with a mixture of national fingerprints in evidence from Martinů-like European syncopations to South America and beyond. The second movement opens with a dimly lit Largo that opens out into impassioned eloquence and even violence in a more exploratory flow than the first movement, but one which holds plenty of interest. Non Troppo Presto is a playful diversion and amongst Bernstein's earliest pieces for piano, as is Music for the Dance, No. 2, further evidence of precocious talent and inclinations towards rhythmic potency and juicy harmonic colour.

The Four Sabras relate to Bernstein's relationship with Jewish music and the newly formed state of Israel. The first of these uses a tune from ‘Candide’, and there is a feel of economy of means and a transparent directness that makes these miniatures stand out. Copland's El Salón México is given a highly effective transcription and a performance full of wit and charm here, included as Bernstein's first published work.

"Witty and charming," the Bridal Suites starts out with its own 'Ave Maria', running through Bach's Prelude in C major with an added polytonal melodic line and final blues cadence. These movements are character pieces with titles such as Chaplinesque, and dance movements such as The First Waltz and Cha-cha-cha, all light in character but with also with a refined Jewish soulfulness. The Three Encores (Obligatory) give us Argument, Reconciliation, and a final Magyar Lullaby.

Superbly played by Andrew Cooperstock and with Bridge's usual fine production standards this is a very fine collection of rarely heard works by one of the 20th century's key musical figures. Search online and you'll have trouble finding any alternative recordings, so invest with confidence and enjoy at leisure.

Dominy Clements
 
 



 

 




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