Bernstein’s final song cycle, Arias and Barcarolles, was originally composed with four-hand piano accompaniment, so a new orchestral version is a welcome surprise. Michael Tilson Thomas, who was Bernstein’s second pair of hands at the premiere in 1989, was responsible for the arrangement and conducts the San Francisco Symphony in this premiere recording. Released digitally by the orchestra’s own label, it features mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and bass-baritone Ryan Mckinley; both deliver wonderfully characterful performances. The vibrant orchestral arrangement, faithfully constructed, is a loving homage and truly does its composer proud. (SFS Media – digital only ★★★★)
Vocalists make their mark on Best of Leonard Bernstein too, though it is really Bernstein’s instrumental music-making that takes centre stage here . This two-disc set is fabulous value, particularly if Sony’s myriad box set releases have been too much of a leap for your wallet. Classic performances of Mahler, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Copland, plus a complete Rhapsody in Blue (featuring Glenn Gould), are the big hitters of disc one. Disc two is an all-bernstein selection and sees extracts from Candide, West Side Story and Trouble in Tahiti next to selections from Mass, The Age of Anxiety and Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (featuring Benny Goodman). This really is the cream of his US recordings. (Sony Classical 19075853612 ★★★★★)
York to Paris with Warner’s neat seven-disc set. Leonard Bernstein – An American in Paris presents the maestro’s 1970s recordings with the Orchestre National de France. The set includes the live recording of a 1975 concert featuring music by Ravel, rehearsals for which are also included on another disc. ★earing the rehearsal is a slightly odd experience, as Bernstein sings along to Shéhérazade and gives direction in French. It’s a scintillating selection overall, though, with Ravel and Berlioz taking prominence, alongside works by Milhaud, Schumann, Bloch, Rachmaninov and – of course – Bernstein.
(Warner Classics 90295689544 ★★★★)
Lenny thankfully speaks in English in the 13-disc Leonard Bernstein at Harvard box set, one of the more unusual – but much appreciated –offerings in this centenary year. Comprised of all six of the public lectures he gave at ★arvard University (his alma mater) in 1973 while sitting as an honorary professor, this showcases the man as teacher. Titled The Unanswered Question, the series saw Bernstein wax lyrical about the relationship between music and language. There are musical examples too, with complete works especially recorded, or performed live, by the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein’s ability to make music accessible is legendary, and you truly hang on every word. (Sony Classical 19075850472 ★★★★★)
Back to the
Big Apple, and the LSO’S new recording of Wonderful Town is downright glorious. Conducted by Simon
Rattle and featuring Danielle de Niese and Alysha Umphress in the lead roles of sisters Eileen and Ruth, Bernstein’s Tony award-winning musical remains a classic. The colourful, jazz-infused score evokes a lively and quixotic city that never sleeps. It is of course pure Bernstein; the tunes are oh-so memorable and the performances are wideeyed and big-hearted, which is just as it should be.
(LSO Live LSO0813 ★★★★★)