Remembering JFK: 50th Anniversary Concert

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bernstein,Gershwin,Lieberson
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Works by Bernstein, Lieberson & Gershwin
PERFORMER: Richard Dreyfuss (narrator), Tzimon Barto (piano); National Symphony Orchestra/ Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1190-2D

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These recordings were made at three concerts in the Kennedy Center in Washington in January marking the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of President John F Kennedy. Peter Lieberson’s Remembering JFK, which sadly has now become a memorial to the composer as well, sets excerpts from Kennedy’s speeches, drily delivered by Richard Dreyfuss, against an orchestral background: unlike its obvious model, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, it’s more reflective than rhetorical, with a quiet, touching ending based on a Brahms chorale prelude. Bernstein’s West Side Story Dances are decently performed, though without the vital last ounce of precision and attack. But the Gershwin Concerto is really disappointing: Tzimon Barto and Christoph Eschenbach take every opportunity to linger, at the cost of momentum and sometimes even coherence. The sound lacks immediacy, with applause after the first and last movements of the Concerto but oddly not elsewhere.

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A bonus disc contains excerpts from a broadcast of the concert given on the eve of Kennedy’s inauguration by the National Symphony Orchestra under Howard Mitchell: reams of radio commentary, much of it about the heavy snow which had played havoc with the whole event; a specially commissioned, mercifully unbombastic overture, From Sea to Shining Sea by John La Montaine (who is now in his nineties); and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, crisply played by Earl Wild in glaring sonic close-up. Anthony Burton