Bernstein: Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety); Candide Overture; West Side Story Symphonic Dances

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COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety); Candide Overture; West Side Story Symphonic Dances
PERFORMER: Jean-Louis Steuerman (piano); Florida PO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.559099
The second of Leonard Bernstein’s three symphonies, completed in 1949, is an odd but satisfying amalgam: symphonic in its scale and ambition, perhaps, but more like a concerto with its virtuoso solo piano part, and more like a tone poem in the derivation of its structure from WH Auden’s long poem ‘The Age of Anxiety’. James Judd and his Florida Philharmonic clearly revel in the endlessly inventive colouring of the double series of variations which forms Part 1 of the work; Jean-Louis Steuerman is on top of the solo part, but doesn’t swing in the jazzy Masque in Part 2. The Symphony is complemented by two Bernstein favourites, the Candide Overture and the West Side Story Symphonic Dances: both are given lively performances, with some gorgeous quiet string playing in the finale of the Dances; the recording is first-rate throughout.

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Leonard Bernstein’s own accounts of the Symphony are important documents of his intentions; and there are good recent recordings by James Tocco with Leonard Slatkin on Chandos and, especially, Marc-André Hamelin with Dmitry Sitkovetsky on Hyperion. But the keenest competition to the new Naxos, in price and repertoire, comes from a Virgin double-album of Bernstein and Copland reissues, on which Andrew Litton and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are joined by the fleet-fingered Jeffrey Kahane in a terrific performance of the Symphony; the set also includes a brilliant Candide Overture from Litton, and an account of the West Side Story Dances by Edo de Waart with the Minnesota Orchestra which packs a real punch. Anthony Burton