Chichester Psalms *
Kaddish (Symphony No.3) **
Missa Brevis ***
Jamie Bernstein (speaker) **
Pablo Strong (treble) *
Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano) **
Simon Baker (counter-tenor) ***
London Oratory School Schola **
BBC Singers ***
BBC Symphony Chorus * / **
BBC Symphony Orchestra
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
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2004
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10172
Duration: 71 minutes
While Leonard Bernstein’s recordings of his own music are of course wonderful documents, I don’t think Kaddish has been better done than here. One of the problems of a problem-piece is the text. Here, Bernstein’s 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 Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre’s on the composer’s first recording (CBS/Sony).
Then there’s the music itself – some of Bernstein’s finest, and most explosive, affecting and inventive – or so it seems in this dedicated and responsive performance under Leonard Slatkin’s deeply sympathetic guidance, the symphony’s poly-stylistic fantasy made not only stimulating but integrated. And that text, warmly and naturally read (you’d never suspect that Jamie Bernstein wasn’t recorded at the same sessions as the music) makes this Kaddish the most approachable and revealing we’ve had.
Ideally, Kaddish should be placed last on the CD. Chichester Psalms – exuberant and moving, sweet and intense under Slatkin’s direction – would have made a perfect opener, it’s 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.