Bernstein Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety)
Krystian Zimerman (piano); Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle
DG 483 5539 39:39 mins
When Krystian Zimerman played ‘The Age of Anxiety’ with Leonard Bernstein 30 years ago, the composer half-jokingly asked whether Zimerman would perform it with him again on Bernstein’s 100th birthday. This CD is a partial fulfilment of Zimerman’s promise to do just that.
It comes from live performances given this past June with the Berlin Philharmonic, among the last that Simon Rattle gave as the orchestra’s chief conductor. The sound is rich and full-bodied, if not ideally transparent. The performance itself is exceptional, not least because the Berlin Philharmonic brings so much expressive capability to the table. The clarinet duet which opens the ‘Prologue’ is exquisitely nuanced and grippingly introspective. So too is Zimerman’s initial entry in Variation 1 of ‘The Seven Ages’, the chords beautifully weighted and shaped with an aching sense of loneliness. Pummelling orchestral power and Zimerman’s steely virtuosity give Variation 5 a visceral impact, and the jazzy ‘Masque’ is full of glinting detail from both Zimerman and the Berlin players (who could probably not have played this idiomatically in the Karajan period). Zimerman’s duet in the ‘Epilogue’ with a distant upright piano is breath-catchingly evocative, and Rattle shapes an imperious coda. A new age of anxiety is sweeping America at present, which would have saddened Bernstein immensely. He would, though, have delighted in this marvellously stirring and moving performance of his Second Symphony. A timely reinterpretation, and an undoubted highlight of the Bernstein centenary.