BERNSTEIN: Divertimento. Three Meditations from
Mass. Five Songs. Overture and
Suite from Candide.
As a ballet and Broadway composer, Bernstein worked with orchestrators—Hershy Kay, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal, and later on Charlie Harmon, who became Lenny-B's personal assistant in 1982, his archivist in 1985, his music editor in 1988, and since LB's death in 1990 the editor of a critical edition of his music. Harmon has annotated this new Ref/Rec collection, conducted by Bernstein's last protégé from the Orient, Eiji Oue. (The first one, for those too young to remember, was Seiji Ozawa.) He also "arranged" the 18-minute Suite from Candide for this recording, having "worked directly with the composer....prepared a score and a set of orchestral parts... reviewed the score with the composer (as he prepared to conduct it for the first time, in 1989), and seen to it that his revisions were incorporated into the orchestra material."
Ramin, one of the co-orchestrators of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, scored five songs spanning a 30-year period from 1949 to 1979, which Beth Clayton sings charmingly and characterfully in this first recording. LB arranged the excerpts from his controversial Mass of 1971 for Mstislav Rostropovich to play with piano. Harmon is a little vague about the orchestrations, although Bernstein "in his preface to the orchestral version acknowledges the assistance of John Mauceri and Jack Gottlieb in preparing the orchestral score." Here the Minnesota Orchestra's first cellist, Anthony Ross, plays them persuasively; how pleasurable to be spared "Slava's" showboating.
The Candide Overture was originally orchestrated by Kay back in 1956 for
that best of Bernstein's Broadway scores. Therefore, on this 24-bit, HDCD recording
Symphony Hall in Minneapolis, we have only the 15-minute Divertimento from
Bernstein's own hand without acknowledgement of help, commissioned for the Boston
Symphony Orchestra's centenary in 1981. Although it comes last on the disc, I've
listed it first because it receives the best performance, certainly superior
Bernstein's own with the slapdash Bavarian Radio Orchestra of bygone years on
a Hungaroton CD. The premiere raised plenty of Boston eyebrows: Brahmans were
grumble "Pops" music. But the work's eight movements continue to impress me as
intentionally trivial, in a couple of cases banal; Bernstein had been bypassed,
after all, in 1948 despite the advocacy of his mentor, Serge Koussevitzky. For
third successive time, BSO trustees imported a new conductor from Paris—Charles
Munch. Not only was Lenny a "home-town boy," he was Jewish (so was Koussevitzky,
he'd converted to Greek Orthodoxy before leaving Russia for Paris).
R.D. (Oct. 2000)