A Captivating Bernstein Birthday Bouquet

Review by: David Hurwitz

Bernstein1600

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This may be scratching the bottom of the Bernstein legacy barrel, but evidently there’s still some good stuff to be found. Granted, the Mambo from West Side Story is here on account of its perfunctory concert ending, all two and a bit minutes of it, but Slava! A Political Overture is great fun–a minor gem. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the musical, was the great flop of Bernstein’s late years. It has been rescued vocally as A White House Cantata, and it makes a surprisingly winning and effective orchestral suite in this smart arrangement by Charlie Harmon. Definitely worth hearing.

CBS Music was composed for a show honoring the network’s fiftieth birthday celebrations in 1978. Most of it was not used at the time, and it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been. It’s beyond ephemeral. The opening minute of the Times Square Ballet from On The Town, on the other hand, introduced a delightful 1988 birthday tribute to Bernstein in the form of variations on the tune “New York, New York” by Berio. Corigliano, Druckman, Foss, Kirchner, Schuman, Takemitsu, and John Williams. This substantial (21 minute) piece certainly deserves an occasional outing, as it’s full of color and invention, and it’s dazzlingly played here.

No one does Bernstein, or almost Bernstein, better than Alsop these days, and the Naxos sonics are also first rate. Do by all means give this disc a spin. Even if you know your Bernstein well, it may surprise you.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • BERNSTEIN, LEONARD:
    Mambo from West Side Story; Slava! A Political Overture; Suite from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; CBS Music; Time Square Ballet from On the Town (excerpt); A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet

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