“Our Bernstein series continues with a recital of gems by Bernstein and his associates. The concert also features a new song by British-Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk, written in response to Bernstein’s witty recipe settings, La bonne cuisine. Scored for two pianos and percussion, the early, unfinished ballet Conch Town – containing the song now better known as ‘America’ in West Side Story – has now been completed…” [BBC Proms website]
La bonne cuisine
Crème Brûlée on a Tree [BBC commission: world premiere]
Conch Town [completed by Nigel Simeone & Tom Owen; UK premiere]*
Songs by Copland, Barber, Blitzstein, and Sondheim
Wallis Giunta (mezzo-soprano); Michael Sikich & Iain Farrington* (pianos) and Toby Kearney & Owen Gunnell (percussion)*
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 27 August, 2018
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
The Proms centenary celebrations for Leonard Bernstein continued on a smaller scale with a programme from Wallis Giunta and Michael Sikich in a vertiginous race through recipes, La bonne cuisine, as a colourful opener. Giunta’s diction was almost as impressive as her rich and expressive tones, as she cajoled and described the stages of intricate preparation for Plum Pudding, Ox-tails, Tavouk gueunksis (Turkish chicken) and Express Rabbit Stew. Then Crème Brûlée on a Tree by Bushra El-Turk which mirrors Bernstein’s playful and witty approach to food and cooking, this time durian custard made from the infamous stinking fruit, Giunta’s revulsion theatrically displayed. Slaps, claps and vocal tics accompanied the energetic instructions, the piano supplying a subdued moto perpetuo.
‘Big Stuff’ was composed with Billie Holiday in mind as an introduction to Bernstein’s Fancy Free, wistfully and effectively given here. Up-tempo music followed from the pianists and percussionists for Conch Town, an unfinished early project of Bernstein’s. Cuban themes dominate and anticipate ‘America’ from West Side Story.
Giunta and Sikich took the rest of the programme. Aaron Copland’s plangent ‘Pastorale’ was a little over-operatic in presentation, whereas two of Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs, ‘Sea Snatch’ and ‘The Monk and his Cat’, were dramatically evoked and subtly coloured. Songs by Bernstein’s friends and collaborators Marc Blitzstein and Stephen Sondheim lightened the mood with touching and saucy lyrics, showcasing Giunta’s acting and communicative powers. The final Bernstein piece was ‘What a Movie!’ from Trouble in Tahiti.
There was also an encore of exceptional beauty and emotion [but not broadcast by Radio 3 – Ed.], Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ (from A Little Night Music), lyrical and sob-infused. Giunta’s voice is very special.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms