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Bernstein: A White House Cantata
Leonard Bernstein, Kent Nagano, Barbara Hendricks
Bernstein: A White House Cantata
Genres: Jazz, Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1

There is a resurgence of interest in Leonard Bernstein the composer these days. This disc helps to readdress the hegemony of West Side Story, a piece that has tended to eclipse his remaining output. Bernstein prepared ...  more »


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All Artists: Leonard Bernstein, Kent Nagano, Barbara Hendricks, Kenneth Tarver, Thomas Hampson, June Anderson, London Voices
Title: Bernstein: A White House Cantata
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Release Date: 9/12/2000
Genres: Jazz, Classical
Styles: Opera & Classical Vocal, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028946344828

There is a resurgence of interest in Leonard Bernstein the composer these days. This disc helps to readdress the hegemony of West Side Story, a piece that has tended to eclipse his remaining output. Bernstein prepared A White House Cantata as a concert version of the musical that was written in collaboration with Alan Jay Lerner, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The cantata presents scenes that are centered on the White House, and simultaneously explores racial issues, in an engaging and often witty (sometimes hilarious) way. DG has assembled an all-star cast: Thomas Hampson is the perfect choice for the President, his voice deep and authoritative. The production is blessed also with the excellent chorus London Voices; the LSO under Kent Nagano is in top form. Special mention should go also to 15-year-old Victor Acquah, who is quite superb in "If I Was a Dove." Bernstein's musical voice is archetypically American, and his country of origin is immediately apparent in the nostalgic prelude. His send-up of perceived Englishness is deliciously witty, but it is when Bernstein is in inspirational mode that he is most successful. --Colin Clarke

CD Reviews

It's About Time
Film Music Fan | USA | 11/06/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It's amazing that it took almost 25 years to get this much of "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" onto a CD. It's even more amazing to hear it again after all these years. I have a small association with the show, having been a member of the pit orchestra for its month-long tryout at the Forest Theater in Philadelphia. (Actually, the orchestra was so big that it would not fit into the pit, leaving conductor Roland Gagnon to conduct into a TV camera while we were behind a scrim at the back of the stage - on two levels - watching him on a monitor.)The problems with the show always stemmed from the book, not the music. As I listen to the lyrics 25 years later, they seem a bit more clever than I remember. But you have to examine the mood of the country when this show premiered. In1976, we were just past the horror of Vietnam and into the period of "malaise," as President Carter called it. The country just wanted some time to chill out, and here comes this highly touted musical (Coca-Cola put up over a million dollars - a record for that time - in sponsorship money) full of messages about racial injustice. People wanted to tap their toes and have a good time. Alan Jay Lerner and Leonard Bernstein were not about to let them do that.As I recall, Lerner was kind of a basket case during the rehearsals, sitting quietly, and wearing leather gloves. Bernstein was as flamboyant as the legends that followed him. Sid Ramin and Hershey Kay kept coming into the pit with little slips of paper each day. Each slip would have changes that were made the previous night, and they would tape them to our music.The music for "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" is brilliant in spite of the lyrics. Music like this had never been heard in the theater. Again, remember that this was years before the opera-like scores of today's Broadway blockbusters. And the worst of Bernstein is a thousand times more sophisticated than the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Bernstein paid tribute in the score to Gustav Mahler. He shows glimpses of Sibelius, Copland and even Bernstein. When he writes a march, he pays tribute to the French composers known as "The Six," adding a "wrong" note or an extra eighth of a beat to let the listener know that his tongue is planted firmly in his cheek.Now to this recording. Why do the geniuses at Amberson and Deutsche Grammophon insist on giving us opera singers for Bernstein's theatrical scores? Didn't they learn from their disaster with Jose Carreras on the "West Side Story" CD? Not that Thomas Hampson can't carry a tune. But the part was originally played by Ken Howard, an excellent actor who could deliver a song. Hampson is an excellent singer who can't. I'm sure there were lots of actor/singers who could have been hired to record this. Kent Nagano does a reputable job with the score. While he takes "Ten Square Miles on the Potomac River" entirely too fast, he does show an insight into the music, particularly on "The Monroviad." The "Sonatina" comes off as a bad Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, full of embarrassingly trite lyrics. And while the music for the minstrel show is a clever parody of the past, the lyrics drag it down into a shameful mess.The composer Ned Rorem called Leonard Bernstein "a sacred monster." He also contended that "the only valid criticism of a piece of music is another piece of music." Consider this: in the almost twenty-five years since "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" made its ill-fated premier, has there been one show, one piece of music, or one composer who could touch the quality of Bernstein's work for the Broadway stage?"
The honor of your presence isn't quite requested...
Matthew Murray | New York City, NY USA | 09/25/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue played for 7 performances on Broadway in 1976. To say it had a troubled life is something of an understatement. But whatever other problems the show had, it at least had a wonderful score. And so does A White House Cantata, a concert recording of some of the music from the show. It's not exactly what was heard on Broadway, but rather a compilation of some of the best music from all the incarnations of the show. The music is almost completely superb, but the performances are often lacking--1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was musical THEATRE, and not enough of the theatre is in evidence here. "Duet for One," for example, is a brilliant song in which the present First Lady and the past First Lady quibble during the Inauguration, with the catch being they are both played by one actress! But that number, among others, don't play on this recording very well. I have to recommend it just for the magnificent music, but this recording simply doesn't capture the show itself very well."
A mixed but decided blessing.
Michael A. Benedetto | New York, NY USA | 02/03/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I'll counter-intuitively start with the bottom line: this album is a delightful listen, and is necessary for serious fans of musical theatre as well as Bernstein admirers.What precedes the bottom line, though, is less pleasant. This isn't a terribly theatrical recording -- DG chose to eschew singing actors (such as those who were so vibrant in the original production of this failed show) in favor of legitimate singers. Moreover, there is little dialogue preserved (though I admit that I would not like to see any songs omitted to make room for it). As a result, the score comes across much more strongly as music than as a representation of a theatrical event, and some of the lyrics aren't given their full due.But it's still hard to dislike the album. June Anderson has been roundly criticized for her First Lady, but she's very good on all of the songs that don't require her to excel at comedy. The showstopper "Duet For One" does have such a requirement, but as it has already been brilliantly recorded by Judy Kaye, Anderson's botch job is less of a tragedy.The other lead, Thomas Hampson, is a fine singer with real presence on his major numbers. Everyone else in the cast does well enough, and the technical elements of the recording are fine.Back to the bottom line: the score sparkles, and it has been given exciting life by this cast. It isn't the recording we might have hoped to hear, but what we now have is priceless."