American Classics - Bernstein: Serenade, Etc / Alsop, Et Al
Bernstein?s Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp, and percussion was inspired by Plato?s Symposium and the composer described it as a ?series of related statements in praise of love.? This is the only performance I know which treats it that way, rather than as a snazzy solo concerto. It?s partly to do with conductor Marin Alsop?s measured approach to tempo: the work bounces along, but the syncopated rhythms never race out of control, and moments of excitement are never whipped up in order to generate a buzz. It?s also partly to do with the soloist. Philippe Quint?s smooth-toned violin persuades and cajoles: there are flights of fancy, but there is also reasoned argument. In short, this really does sound like a group of articulate protagonists in intellectual parlay (a situation Bernstein himself loved to be in). Marin Alsop was a protegee of the composer, and here she salutes his memory by taking the program of the Serenade seriously. The aforementioned sections of the Bournemouth orchestra are disciplined and tight.
The ballet score, Facsimile , perhaps needs to be drawn out of its shell a little more; it is the least flashy of Bernstein?s early concert works. Alsop and the orchestra do it justice, but this is one of those rare cases where only the composer (on Sony and Deutsche Grammophon) can bring it to shining life. Jerome Robbins?s ballet was set to a nihilistic scenario of ?post war malaise and the spiritual vacuum of modern man,? to quote the notes. (I thought the post-war era was optimistic! Robbins should have been around now.) The music is, likewise, a little gray, though Bernstein?s natural ebullience peeps through whenever it can. In any case, the playful moments need to be more playful, the dramatic fortes a little more dramatic than they are allowed to be here. The prominent piano part is nicely integrated into the orchestral fabric in this spacious recording.
Facsimile is an exception to my theory (which I?m sticking to) that, generally, Bernstein?s music speaks for itself and it?s musicality suffers when points are over-emphasized or climaxes inflated. The late Divertimento (written for the centenary of the Boston SO) provides a good example. Once more, Alsop reins in the highjinks and as a result, the piece seems more substantial and less ?occasional? than usual. These works are available in the composer?s recordings and many other fine interpretations exist (such as Hilary Hahn?s dazzling Serenade, with David Zinman conducting the Baltimore SO on Sony?if it?s still around) but Naxos gives us more than mere bargain-basement versions. These are smart, sharply realized, well-recorded performances.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Catalog Number: 8559245
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Conductor: Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Philippe Quint