Chichester Psalms *
On the Town Three Dance Episodes
On the Waterfront Symphonic Suite
Thomas Kelly (treble) *
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus *
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in April 2003 at The Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts, Dorset
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in January 2003 at The Lighthouse, Poole Centre for the Arts, Dorset
CD No: See above Duration: See above Reviewed: October 2003
American Beauties from Bournemouth
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Ned Rorem turned 80 just a few days ago on 23 October 2003. Leonard Bernstein would have been 85 this August. The two are linked here not just through splendid CDs from the Bournemouth Symphony but through Bernstein conducting the premiere, in New York, of Rorems Third Symphony, a lyrical and punchy work that stands high in the American Symphony canon.
Theres an epic, filmic quality to Rorems symphonic music, also ebullience, wit and shapely lyricism. In No.3 theres a nod to Broadway, a suggestion of open plains, simple and very touching melodies, and virtuoso use of the orchestra; the final movement reaches for the sky.
Its good to have Rorems three numbered symphonies, all written in the 1950s, on one CD. The first two, recorded here for the first time, are also works of distinction. No.1, in a compact four-movement design, has all the wonderful optimism and outreach of the best American symphonic music; the second movement Andantino is a typically-beautiful song without words, a touching reminder of Rorems love of French culture, while the succeeding Largo explores darker expression. The finale is bright and breezy.
The Second Symphony evolves a long-spun string melody into faster-moving material to sustain an expansive structure. Rorems kinship with Samuel Barber is noted and then heightened with the melancholy Tranquillo that follows. The similarly brief finale begins with timpani tattoo, introduces the piano, and hurtles in angular steps to a resolute conclusion. Maybe the big first movement should stand alone as a one-movement work leaving the Tranquillo as an attractive miniature.
Rorems vividly communicative music finds the Bournemouth Symphony both committed and confident under the enthusiastic José Serebrier who revels in Rorems wide palette of colour and generous invention.
Similar excellence informs the Bernstein CD under the BSOs Principal Conductor Marin Alsop who writes a touching note on her Bernstein memories. On the Waterfront was Bernsteins only foray into film music. Its a fine score that conveys urban tensions and human aspirations. Bernsteins harmonic and instrumental incision is telling and atmospheric (not least in the use of a saxophone). Alsop keeps the suite nicely on the boil and charts atmospheres and emotions with a sure touch.
If the fun and games of the three sailors on New York shore-leave is a little staid, Chichester Psalms is given a joyful and touching performance with real rhythmic exuberance and heartfelt expression; the chorus is uninhibited and Thomas Kelly is uncommonly secure in his contribution to The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23), very movingly done, and the violent contrast of Why do the nations rage brings some nimbly articulate work from the orchestra. A far shorter gap between the second and third movements would have helped maintain tension.
A few small reservations about the sound, a little strident in the Rorem, a tad restricted in the Bernstein, are incidental given the quality of the music and the lively renditions. Two veritable bargains!