Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Overture to Candide (1956) [4:15]
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1957) [22:29]
Three Dance Variations from Fancy Free (1944) [6:51]
On the Waterfront
– Symphonic Suite (1954) [17:27]
Three Dance Episodes from On the Town (1946) [9:56]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
rec. 2016, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK
Reviewed as a stereo 24/96 download from
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-2278 SACD
It’s good to see Bernstein the composer being celebrated in this centenary
year. That said, even devoted Lenny fans would have to acknowledge his
output is very uneven. For me, the stand-out works include the
much-maligned Mass –
makes a very good case for it – Chichester Psalms, Age of Anxiety (Symphony No. 2) and some of the theatre pieces. Then
there’s the brooding score he provided for Elia Kazan’s 1954 film, On the Waterfront, which he turned into a symphonic suite. Happily,
Bernstein gave us many now legendary recordings of his own compositions,
among them an almost identical programme to Lindberg’s; that was recorded
with the New York Philharmonic in the early 1960s. I have the extended
version of Sony SMK63085, which adds the three dances from On the Town.
I was a little surprised to see Christian Lindberg leading the RLPO in this
timely tribute. I tend to associate him with more ‘serious’ repertoire –
his fine Pettersson cycle and
spring to mind – but he’s also a terrific trombonist, as his light-hearted
A Lindberg Extravaganza, so amply demonstrates. No, given Andrew Litton’s cracking
from Colorado, I’d have thought he was a more obvious choice for this
music, some of which he recorded with the Bournemouth Symphony in 1990.
Indeed, that BSO coupling of the Candide overture and Age of Anxiety, now part of a larger compilation from
Erato, is one of my favourite Bernstein discs.
Lindberg’s Candide is a pretty good indication of what’s to come.
Crisp and detailed, it couldn’t be more different from Lenny’s uninhibited,
almost breathless, account of this exuberant overture. Lindberg isn’t as
exciting, certainly, but he does have the advantage of a much cleaner, more
natural recording; that highlights orchestral colours and, in passing,
CBS’s crudely interventionist recording. The prologue to the symphonic
dances from West Side Story is similarly contained. Rhythms are
precise and there’s a general air of tidiness that, on first hearing, can
seem a little too subdued. Still, some listeners may prefer this
music played fairly ‘straight’, its shapes and edges more clearly defined.
Make no mistake, this newcomer will get your toes tapping; in fact,
the more I listened, the more I warmed to the Swede’s cooler view of what
is, potentially, a rather overheated score. There are startling moments as
well, with the Scherzo sounding more like Copland than I’ve ever
heard it. The RLPO’s spirited Mambo, complete with vocals, is nicely
done, and Cool is as jazzy as one could wish. Indeed, Lindberg and
his players, perhaps a tad cautious at first, finally hit their stride. As
for the recording, engineered by Fabian Frank, it has both presence and
power. Incidentally, I’m about to review a
download of a new account of the piece, with Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the
Houston Symphony (Pentatone).
Such are the increasing pleasures of this album that early caveats now seem
churlish; in my defence, though, it’s almost impossible to hear
performances of these pieces without harking back to the composer’s own.
And while the RLPO aren’t as transported as their American counterparts,
they’re no slouches, either; just sample their terrific rat-a-tat delivery
in the Galop from Fancy Free. What’s more, they really seem
to be enjoying themselves at this point. And while I’d have welcomed a more
supple Danzon, that’s also a minor detail. Those interested in
getting to know the entire ballet should look no further than Lenny’s
The real surprise in this programme is Lindberg’s genuinely symphonic
treatment of On the Waterfront. Firmly focused and tightly knit, it
emerges as a very powerful piece indeed. The foghorn-like opening and the
solo sax aren’t as evocative, as haunting, as they are for Bernstein, but
then the Andante largamente is seamless and full of feeling. As
expected, Lenny lives for the moment, creating a unique intensity that few
can rival, let alone match. That said, his protégé, Marin Alsop, and the
Bournemouth Symphony recorded the suite in 2003.
welcomed the CD, which includes the Chichester Psalms and the three
dances from On the Town. It’s just been reissued as part of a
birthday box (Naxos 8.508018).
Lindberg rounds off this collection with a wonderfully relaxed and utterly
idiomatic rendition of those highlights from On the Town. Indeed,
the dreamy Pas de deux, now hushed, now heart-swelling. is every bit
as memorable as it is under the composer himself. Ditto Times Square, which hustles and bustles with the best of them. In short, it’s a
terrific sign-off to a thoroughly engaging album; it’s also a fine tribute
to a most interesting – and unexpected – musical partnership. The
informative liner-notes are by Geoffrey Black.
So, who’s it to be – Lenny or Lindberg? Frankly, I’d want both.