Recorded 2003 Missa Brevis in St Giles Cripplegate, London on 27 February; Chichester Psalms and Kaddish in the Colosseum, Watford on 1 & 2 March; Jamie Bernsteins narration in Bias Studio, Springfield, Virginia, USA on 3 October
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10172 Duration: 71 minutes Reviewed: February 2004
Leonard Bernstein Kaddish
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
While Leonard Bernsteins recordings of his own music are of course wonderful documents, I dont think Kaddish has been better done than here. One of the problems of a problem-piece is the text. Here, Bernsteins daughter, Jamie, supplies one that is effectively a portrait of her father and his communication with God. It works well and is read without the clamour and theatricality that has handicapped previous attempts of the original text, excepting maybe Bernsteins wife Felicia Montealegres on the composers first recording (CBS/Sony).
Then theres the music itself some of Bernsteins finest, and most explosive, affecting and inventive or so it seems in this dedicated and responsive performance under Leonard Slatkins deeply sympathetic guidance, the symphonys poly-stylistic fantasy made not only stimulating but integrated. And that text, warmly and naturally read (youd never suspect that Jamie Bernstein wasnt recorded at the same sessions as the music) makes this Kaddish the most approachable and revealing weve had.
Ideally, Kaddish should be placed last on the CD. Chichester Psalms exuberant and moving, sweet and intense under Slatkins direction would have made a perfect opener, its poignant closing bars a natural link to the a cappella Missa Brevis, a late work using much earlier material, in which Bernstein produces a polyphonic piece rich in medieval references, and reminds some percussion helping of Carmina Burana before Orff did it his way! The BBC Singers and Slatkin hit the mark in an ideal acoustic.
With consistently first-rate sound to match these inspired and inspiring performances, with all solos well taken, not least by treble Pablo Strong, this is a CD one wants to wave around enthusiastically, especially to those who underestimate Bernstein the composer.