Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; On the Waterfront Symphonic Suite; Three Dance Episodes from On the Town

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Chichester Psalms; On the Waterfront Symphonic Suite; Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
PERFORMER: Thomas Kelly (treble); Bournemouth SO & Chorus/Marin Alsop
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559177
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, already well schooled in American idioms by Andrew Litton, is now under the dynamic direction of Leonard Bernstein’s one-time pupil and assistant Marin Alsop. What could be more appropriate than for them to record the Hebrew psalm settings which Bernstein composed for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival in Chichester, right in the BSO’s backyard? The results are generally successful, with the orchestra and chorus nimble and incisive in the first psalm and the forceful interruption to the second, and expressive without being sentimental in the lovely winding lines of the last. But the central setting of Psalm 23 is taken so slowly that, even with an excellent solo treble, it loses a sense of flow. The Psalms are complemented by a powerful account of Bernstein’s concert suite from his only film score (see also this month’s cover disc), and a lively performance of the suite from his first musical, lacking only a touch of rhythmic freedom in the jazzier solos.

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The chief rival in the Psalms is Bernstein’s own live recording for DG with the Israel Philharmonic, full of the unique fervour with which he inspired performers, and made in a fuller and more generous acoustic than the (otherwise well recorded) Naxos. It comes in various couplings, including a Panorama set which also contains, among much else, Bernstein’s magisterial account of On the Waterfront and excerpts from Michael Tilson Thomas’s joyous complete On the Town – and which, in terms of minutes per pound, actually beats the Naxos for value. Anthony Burton