Bernstein - Broadway to Hollywood

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Candide – Overture On The Waterfront – Symphonic Suite Fancy Free – complete ballet
West Side Story – Symphonic Dances On The Town –Two Dance Episodes.
Hanover Philharmonie – conductor Iain Sutherland.


Possessed of a prodigious talent, Leonard Bernstein arguably became one of the most significant – and indeed famous – American musical figures of the mid/late twentieth century, not only in his home country, but throughout the world.

Pianist, conductor, composer and teacher, he [seemingly effortlessly] straddled the divide between ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ music, during a time when there existed very prominent ’red lines’ between those genres.

Celebrations have been taking place around the globe to commemorate the centenary of his birth – in 1918 – and two major companies, Sony Music [formerly CBS] and Deutsche Grammophon have re-issued a considerable number of his recordings.

Not to be outdone, the independent specialist label – SOMM Recordings – have just released a CD of live concert performances, which took place in 1993.

Although a medium-sized success, the original Broadway production of Candide [1956] never fully satisfied Bernstein, who in the coming decades oversaw several new versions before settling on a ‘final revised version’ in 1989. Despite the various changes to the operetta itself, the Overture remained unchanged; it is a brilliant, uplifting piece, exceptionally well- orchestrated, and full of memorable tunes which are masterfully threaded together and combined into a dazzling coda.

The Symphonic Suite On The Waterfront is taken from the evocative and atmospheric music which Bernstein wrote for the eponymous 1954 motion picture, which won eight Academy Awards. Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Maldon, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger, the film made a powerful impact with its head-on depiction of union corruption and extortion.

Dating from 1943-44, Fancy Free, a score written for the choreographer Jerome Robbins’ American Ballet Theatre, was Bernstein’s first extended music for the stage. As the conductor of this recording, [Iain Sutherland] has observed, ‘The music was written twenty years after George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in which the earlier popular composer showed what he was capable of, In writing for the concert hall. In Fancy Free, Bernstein – the classical composer and conductor – reversed the process, writing music that embraced the popular music idioms of the day’. These include jazz-based and Latin-influenced themes.

Fancy Free proved such an original concept that almost at once it gave rise to further theatrical treatment, in the shape of the Broadway musical On The Town, which opened towards the end of 1944. The musical was a full evening’s entertainment, capturing exactly the mood of a United States sensing the dawn of victory – optimistic and outward-looking. The show was such a success that a film version was soon planned.

Many would regard West Side Story as Bernstein’s greatest single achievement. The show, which appeared in 1957, has certainly captured the wider public’s imagination, such that the words ‘Leonard Bernstein’ and ‘West Side Story’ have now become virtually synonymous. Bernstein was assisted by Sid Ramin and Irving Kostal in the creation of a separate concert work – the Symphonic Dances , in which the original narrative is not followed and the dramatic sequence is varied, but the inherent impact of the music is naturally retained. This recording features the revised version of the score, published two years after Bernstein’s death, in 1992.

The performances, conducted by Iain Sutherland, and the the recordings, which were undertaken at the studios of NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hanover , are of the highest quality, as we have come to expect from SOMM.

© 2018 Tony Clayden

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