Bernstein: Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah); Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety); Divertimento

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COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah); Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety); Divertimento
PERFORMER: Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), James Tocco (piano); BBC SO/Leonard Slatkin
Leonard Slatkin’s new account of Jeremiah does great service to the cause of Leonard Bernstein’s orchestral music. This is vivid, generous music-making, gorgeously recorded, in which the sweep and conviction of the music are enhanced by the performance; in the concluding ‘Lamentation’, Michelle DeYoung upholds this spirit with vibrant, emotion-laden singing. The Divertimento, Bernstein’s contribution to centenary celebrations for the Boston Symphony, is a lighter piece but receives a similarly trenchant treatment. The sense of identification with the music that is so palpably apparent in these two works seems less firmly achieved in The Age of Anxiety; other versions have a more defined character, whether it be the knock-about vivacity of Kahane and Litton (Virgin), the punctilious but irrepressible virtuosity of Hamelin and Sitkovetsky (Hyperion), or the incisive, streetwise swagger of Foss and the composer himself (DG). Beside these performances, James Tocco and Slatkin seem just a little too literal. Hear how wonderfully Bernstein’s DG recording achieves the spatial contrast when the orchestral Bronx cheer that both launches the Epilogue and provides a capstone for the jazzy ‘Masque’ suddenly gives way to an echo of the solo material played on the orchestral piano. In Slatkin’s version, alas, the gradual evaporation of this figuration is too tangible to be magical. But even if it lacks the last ounce of character, this performance is still a fine one and does not significantly lessen the appeal of a generous and well-prepared disc. David Breckbill