Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Filling in details of Lenny's life and works

Leonard Bernstein: the complete solo piano works

I'm writing this review on Leonard Bernstein's 99th birthday. It's time to begin the Lenny Centennial celebrations, and what a good way to begin: listening (though not all at once) to the music he wrote for solo piano, for two and four hands. There aren't too many substantial works here, with most of the 56 tracks on two discs running two minutes or less. Bernstein wrote mainly miniatures, character pieces which quite often made reference to friends and professional colleagues. Even his Piano Sonata, an early piece written in 1938, is hardly a big work; the two movements add up to only 11 minutes. Pianist Leann Osterkamp helps to provide a more organic view of Bernstein's piano oeuvre by organizing the pieces more or less chronologically, but grouping pieces which share a connection with larger works together. She also includes a number of unpublished pieces and works that have never been recorded. Most importantly, Osterkamp plays this music with the perfect balance of respect for the composer and an awareness of the nature of circumstances of the work's composition. She has a lightness of touch that works well with Bernstein's often ironic point of view, recognizing mock seriousness or sentimentality but playing other works in a more straightforward way when required. Though the piano music represents nothing as profound or important as Bernstein's orchestral music or his works for the stage or the musical theatre, this delightful music fills in much detail of his character and his life. Michael Barrett provides an extra two hands in Bernstein's Bridal Suite, which is full of lovely melodies, ingenious touches and out and out jokes.

Bernstein at the piano during rehearsals for On the Town, 1953, via NYPL digital collection
One thing that these works illustrate is how social a person Leonard Bernstein was. He obviously gained energy from his huge network of close friends and colleagues in musical, theatrical and other artistic circles. Nothing could be further from the old stereotype of the composer wrestling with his Muse in his lonely attic. In the picture above he works with Roz Russell, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, George Abbott, Lehman Engel on the songs for Wonderful Town. It's a great picture, and it goes so well with the pictures he draws of both Comden and Green in two separate pieces included in this album. Bring on more music - and performance - of this calibre in the next 12 months!

To be released on September 15, 2017.

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