Bernstein: Piano Sonata; Four Anniveraries; Five Anniveraries; Seven Anniveraries; Thirteen Anniveraries; Touches

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COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Piano Sonata; Four Anniveraries; Five Anniveraries; Seven Anniveraries; Thirteen Anniveraries; Touches
PERFORMER: Alexander Frey (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7426-2
Given the ever-increasing popularity and renown of Leonard Bernstein, it is perhaps surprising that his piano works are so seldom heard. Perhaps the reason is that the majority of them are intimate miniatures entitled Anniversaries, dedicated to the composer’s friends, family and teachers: the Sonata of 1938 is the only really substantial piece, although the elusive Touches – Chorale Eight Variations and Coda – of 1981 is a marvellously inventive and fascinating shorter work. The pieces range across a full fifty years and it is a wonderful opportunity to watch the gradual evolution of Bernstein’s style, from the Sonata with its manically active first movement redolent of Shostakovich and Copland and the Messiaen-like harmonies and birdsong decorations of its Largo, to the final set of Thirteen Anniversaries where there is more diatonic writing reminiscent of Bernstein’s own great stage works. Grouped together like this, the pieces are a showcase for Bernstein’s emotional generosity but also for his inventiveness in texture and counterpoint. Above all, many of the Anniversaries are absolutely exquisite: ‘In Memoriam: Helen Coates’ – dedicated to Bernstein’s much loved piano teacher – is particularly heart-rending. Alexander Frey plays with not only accomplishment but an audible deep affection for the music and the composer who inspired such devotion in so many. Jessica Duchen

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