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Bernstein: Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah," Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety"
Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Slatkin, Michelle DeYoung
Bernstein: Symphony No. 1 "Jeremiah," Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety"
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (28) - Disc #1

Bernstein the symphonist is given sympathetic performances by a leading American conductor who gets his British players to sound almost like New Yorkers. The Jeremiah is graced by Michelle DeYoung's vocalism; this outstand...  more »


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Bernstein the symphonist is given sympathetic performances by a leading American conductor who gets his British players to sound almost like New Yorkers. The Jeremiah is graced by Michelle DeYoung's vocalism; this outstanding young mezzo is moving in Jeremiah's Lamentation movement. The Age of Anxiety similarly benefits from James Tocco's sprightly pianism. Not many classical pianists can do justice to the cheeky, jazz-soaked solo role. The Divertimento is a fun piece, and Slatkin and the band really sound as if they're enjoying themselves here. The sound is vibrant, too, leaving only one problem--Bernstein himself has recorded these works: the symphonies for both Sony and DG; the Divertimento for DG. He's always hard to beat, especially in his own music, but Slatkin runs as close a second as possible, so you can't really go wrong with this one. --Dan Davis

CD Reviews

Inspired renderings of intermittently inspired music
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 03/11/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It is good to see more of Bernstein's symphonic creations emancipate themselves as concert works independent of the charismatic advocacy of their composer (live before he passed away, or on disc). Disputable as their intrinsic merits may sometimes be, they are an important and, one starts to suspect, durable part of America's musical heritage.
Earlier I was greatly impressed by Hillary Hahn's recording of the Serenade, which is a very fine work (maybe the best of Bernstein's non-Broadway works), and this Chandos disc is an equally interesting addition to the Bernstein discography. The Jeremiah symphony was new to me and I must say I like it very much. It exerts a very direct appeal, is powerful in its arguments, and at times truly inspired. The final Lament is very moving indeed, an effect partly produced, I guess, by the occasional premonitions of West Side Story (and certainly also by Michelle DeYoung's excellent singing). I also relished the exuberant if somewhat malevolent Scherzo, with its run-of-the-mill trumpets trying to bring down the walls of Jericho all over again.
The Second Symphony is a rather less spontaneous and far more ramshackle affair. The painstakingly detailed musical filling in of an extensive literary program yields a cumbersome and spasmodic construction rather than a cogent musical statement. The attempts to merge Angst-ridden spareness with Mahlerian grandiloquence aren't much of a succes either. The final apotheosis (with bells!) may have been intended as a hollow gesture in the manner of Shostakovich 5th's final pages, but Bernstein just takes it too seriously to make it sound that way, so that it ends up as a slightly ludicrous and less slightly bombastic nonsequitur. Interesting orchestral incidents notwithstanding (like some very fine clarinet-writing at the beginning, or the off-stage piano effects later on), this work is often plain boring and certainly way too pretentious.
Actually, the most convincing piece on this disc is the Divertimento, a vibrant little showpiece for the Boston SO, full of humour, fun and life. It is part of Bernstein's tragedy that he has never been able to accept his facility at writing this kind of thing as a meaningful and even great achievement in itself, but that he kept feeling the need to prove his worth as a composer in endless and often futile attempts at `serious' composition.
Slatkin and his musicians deserve praise for their unconditional belief in all of these scores, and their passionate realisations of them (even held through in places where you feel that little passion can have been derived from the musical ideas themselves). Definitely wortwhile for all those interested in American music."
Serious Bernstein
Brett A. Kniess | Madison, WI | 03/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Leonard Bernstein, well known for his dramatic stage music, also has a fair amount of serious concert and choral works to his name, some of which hasn't really made the same impact on general audiences (even though his concert works are extremely personal). His three symphonies, and to some extent, his Chichester Psalms and Mass, all deal with faith; faith in mankind, but through Bernstein's perspective in Judaism and struggles with sexuality. This CD features three concert works: Symphonies 1 & 2, and some lighter fare with Divertimento for Orchestra.

Symphony No. 1, subtitled "Jeremiah", is a 25-minute, three-movement work (Prophecy, Profanation, and Lamentation), the last movement utilizing a solo mezzo-soprano to the text of "Lamentations of Jeremiah". Written in 1942, the world issues of the day, especially involving the Jewish community, could certainly be at the forefront of the ideas in this work. The first movement, while slow, is filled with chaos; string-based and in an uneven meter (5/4), raw brass punctuations hit throughout the movement; there are moments of calm, but turmoil is the voice that speaks through dissonance and texture. The second movement scherzo is also in a constantly changing time, a bit of his dramatic stage writing comes through, with memorable themes, occasionally a cinematic sweep; but the mood is of the destruction after the chaos, and again brass and percussion punctuations bring home the point, as well as the off-kilter rhythmic emphasis. The final movement is a lament after the destruction of Jerusalem by Jeremiah; sometimes evoking chanted Hebrew liturgy, sometimes an emotional reaction. The finale ends in comfort with faith, but without solution. The symphony is a masterpiece, an emotional, occasionally dissonant, work which speaks on many levels.

The 38-minute Symphony No. 2 "Age of Anxiety", based on W. H. Auden's poem of the same name, combines Jungian psychology with issues of faith and sexuality, both issues for Auden and Bernstein. The orchestration features a prominent piano solo in addition to orchestral forces and a large battery of percussion. In two parts, Part 1 (Prologue, The Seven Ages, and The Seven Stages) and Part 2 (The Dirge, The Masque, and The Epilogue) follows the story of four ordinary people in New York who meet at a bar: Quant, an aging widower (intuition), Malin, a doctor (thought), Rosetta, a shopper (feeling), and Emble, a young seaman who realizes he is attractive to both men and women (sensation). The Prologue introduces the locale and mood briefly with a subdued clarinet duet, and the fourteen variations which follow, are more portraits than variations, often following the characters thoughts. The Seven Ages are reminiscences of youth to age, and The Seven Stages are the interaction of the characters, especially Rosetta who is attracted to Emble, and she invites everyone to her apartment. The Second Part begins with the Dirge, the four traveling in a cab, wondering why they accepted the invitation, represented by the dreamy, almost brutal music, including a 12-tone theme amidst a tonal world. The exciting and jazzy-sounding Masque finds Emble and Rosetta dancing, the rest wanting to leave; she sees them out, and Emble is passed out. The Epilogue ends in a reaffirming tone and a grandiose conclusion. Solutions of Judaism and Christianity, as well as seeing the path laid out before them, are feelings at the end. Slightly esoteric, the music on its own is interesting; the first part more mood driven and textured, while the second part is more thematic and contrasting.

Written in 1980 for the centenary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the 15-minute, 8-movement Divertimento for Orchestra is a gas. Each short part is a snipit of Bernstein's diverse compositional style. Sennets & Tuckets a fanfare, Waltz in 7/8, Mazurka, Samba, Turkey Trot, Sphynxes, Blues, and ending with a March, all centered around the pitches B & C.

Leonard Slatkin is by and far, the best interpreter of Leonard Bernstein's music, save Leonard Bernstein. A superb performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra with special kudos to the excellent brass section. Leonard Slatkin gives invigorating interpretations of these heavy works, reveling in Bernstein's penchant for captivating rhythms and textures. The special performers, Michelle DeYoung and James Tocco, voice and piano respectively, are excellent performers and give spot-on performances. The Chandos sound is impeccable: a clear, spacious recording, where all voices can be heard crisply, with fullness. With these works, you can see an evolution of Bernstein's compositions, all superior concert works, all with heavy, serious subjects that were personal to the composer; be forewarned, however, unlike his stage music, this music is often gritty and dissonant: not for everyone. At 79-minutes length, the CD is chock-full of Bernstein's serious concert works; with unbeatable performances (save Bernstein alone), this CD is well worth the price."
No Anxiety About Owning This
B. R. Merrick | 12/01/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Slatkin deserves kudos for being such a great interpreter of American composers. His time with the St. Louis Symphony has mostly been a blessing for those of us who are seeking recordings of great American music, but here he is with the BBC Symphony, and yet it is more proof of his abilities.

The orchestra's playing is solid throughout, and I am completely satisfied with the soprano in the "Jeremiah" Symphony. The technical aspects are vivid, adding extra punch to Bernstein's reined-in bravado writing. As a bonus, the CD also includes the complete Divertimento for Orchestra, a fun piece to help lighten the mood after the far more serious symphonies. I don't think you can go wrong with this one."