Bernstein: Various

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Lindberg (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
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Bernstein On the Waterfront – Symphonic Suite; West Side Story – Symphonic Dances; Fancy Free – Three Dance Variations; Dance Episodes from On the Town; Candide – Overture
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Lindberg
BIS BIS-2278 (hybrid CD/SACD) 62:30 mins

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Dear reader, I am absolutely exhausted. I have danced the cha-cha, mambo and jive. I’ve been jostling with sailors in Times Square, threatened by union bosses on the waterfront, and almost knifed on the Upper West Side. I’ve heard some unforgettably scorching melodies, mixed in with candied moments of romance. There’s never a dull moment with Leonard Bernstein.

So how come the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra doesn’t flag too? The only time I spotted any weakness on this album, or at least a soupçon of British reserve, was when the musicians had to shout ‘Mambo’ in the West Side Story dances. Otherwise, they’re completely on fire, chiselling hot rhythms out of the percussion, melting their lips on ritzy brass cascades. They also obviously relish the tenderness of those rare moments when Bernstein relaxes (relatively speaking), as in the West Side finale and ‘Somewhere’. Christian Lindberg, his solo trombone put aside, shows his mettle as a conductor, keeping the ensemble light, tight, always on the ball. The programming tries to inject variety, interweaving the two blockbuster scores (On the Waterfront, West Side Story) with earlier orchestral samplers from the 1940s (Fancy Free, On the Town), when the mature Bernstein was still in formation.

But the testosterone and energy levels remain dauntingly high. Buy this album by all means: it contains Bernstein at his punchiest best. But listen in stages, not in one swoop; otherwise a hospital stretcher might await.

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Geoff Brown