Five essential works by Leonard Bernstein

We choose the best works by the genius of theatre and concert hall


West Side Story

Bernstein’s almost-an-opera musical set in New York is his masterpiece. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s moving, uplifting and tautly scored.


Recommended recording:
Te Kanawa, Carreras, unnamed orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
DG 457 1992


A slightly crazy – and flawed – piece that doesn’t sound quite as ‘with it’ as it would have done in 1971. But there are magical moments, including ‘Simple Song.’

Recommended recording:
Jubilant Sykes (baritone), assembled choirs, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.559622-23

Chichester Psalms

The Psalms are Bernstein’s version of church music. While the works have elements of musical theatre, it’s
spiritually uplifting and sincere music.

Recommended recording:
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.559177

Trouble in Tahiti

Bernstein’s 45-minute opera about a loveless marriage stars just two
people. Copland and jazz emerge as clear influences in this stifling work.

Recommended recording:
Kim Criswell, Rod Gilfry, Munich Radio Orchestra/
Ulf Schirmer
BR Klassik 403571900300

Symphony No. 3 (Kaddish)

Dedicated to JFK and often interpreted as a memory to victims of the Holocaust, Bernstein’s finest orchestral work is scored for speaker, choir and orchestra.


Recommended recording:
London Oratory School, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Chandos CHAN 10172