Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues; Bernstein Conducts Bernstein Various soloists and orchestras (Recorded: 1977-1989) (Deutsche Grammophon 447 950-2; 12 discs, available separately)
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Musically speaking, Leonard

Bernstein could make himself at home virtually anywhere - in theatre, politics, the mystic outer reaches of Judaism or the battle-ground where tonality and atonality fight to the death. Even his harshest statements (the few that there are) spin a comforting tune.

Take the riotous Concerto for Orchestra with its "free-style events" and wild shouts of sheva (the Hebrew for seven): first encounters suggest musical anarchy, and yet come "Mixed Doubles" and a soulful "theme" ushers in echoes of Sibelius, Shostakovich and Mahler. Is this mere "conductor's music"? Never! Skip to the "Diaspora Dances" or, even better, to Dybbuk's "Invocation" and the voice is unmistakable.

And I'd challenge anyone to find a movie-score that quite matches Bernstein's for On the Waterfront, bruised and bullish like the film itself - as bitter- sweet as West Side Story, and as punch-drunk as Bartk's The Miraculous Mandarin. True, the Israelis aren't quite as steeped in the idiom as their New York Philharmonic counterparts (on Sony), yet they too know the meaning of love and violence.

The symphonies have worn well, The Age of Anxiety especially, with its racy piano scherzo, while Chichester Psalms has lost none of its freshness and the ballets Fancy Free and On the Town set feet and fingers tapping. I'm glad that DG included both the West Side Story "Symphonic Dances" (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and the glitzy, if somewhat overly operatic, concert version of the whole score (with Kiri Te Kanawa, Jose Carreras, Tatiana Troyanos, Marilyn Horne, etc), though lovers of the "original" should also acquire Sony's substantially extended film soundtrack - still the best version in town.

Candide uses Voltaire to highlight the politics of the day, A Quiet Place (still much underrated) ponders death and communication, and there's Songfest, an ethnically informed review of all that "is" America, majorities or minorities, whether black, white, gay, straight, happily or unhappily married, all with wonderful songs to themselves. Aristophanes and Socrates crop up in the versicoloured Serenade for violin and orchestra and there are the relative rarities, the delightful Divertimento, Halil for a fallen Israeli flautist and "Three Meditations" from Mass - respectable extractions from a riveting work that, when it first appeared, caused something of a scandal.

As to the performances, everyone offers maximum value, whether Gidon Kremer in the Serenade, Christa Ludwig in the Jeremiah Symphony, Lukas Foss in The Age of Anxiety, or the various soloists and singers elsewhere engaged. Bernstein's music is cross-over without compromise, a corpus of work that simply had to be - and this handsome package serves it well.