Bernstein Chichester Psalms Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

An exuberant and exhilarating disc of music by Leonard Bernstein from the Bournemouth...

Andrew McGregor 2003

Bernstein on a budget? Hmmmm, not sure. Lenny liked a certain amount of opulence: glitz and glamour, an expensive sound and maximum pizzazz. Be honest: would your first port-of-call be Bournemouth for this repertoire?

Well, hang on just one second: there's pedigree here, if you choose to look for it. A previous Principal Conductor, the American Andrew Litton, taught this orchestra to swing in a variety of works from Gershwin to Bernstein and Copland, raising standards as well as taking the orchestra touring back home in the States.

Marin Alsop goes one better: she was a Bernstein pupil, and in fact it was Bernstein who made her want to be a conductor in the first place, falling under his spell when her father took her as a nine-year-old to hear Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic. And that's her other advantage: Alsop is a native New Yorker, so when Bernstein depicts the exuberance of Times Square in the mid-40s in his first musical On the Town, she really knows the territory. The same holds true of the Symphonic Suite from Lenny's score for On the Waterfront, Elia Kazan's 1954 film exposing the corruption of the mafia-controlled dockyards - this is the dark side of the city, and Alsop and her Bournemouth band capture it as surely and atmospherically as they do the glitzy exuberance of On the Town...it reeks of adrenaline, and brutal oppression.

The main work though is Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, just about the most tonally optimistic work he composed, and in the simplicity and sentimentality of the Hebrew psalm settings, one of his most approachable yet still exhilarating scores. You need an excellent treble soloist, and Thomas Kelly is just that. Perhaps the singers, chorus and soloists, sound a bit British...just a touch restrained where you'd expect an American choir to let it all hang out, but the orchestra has a riot, and it's a very well-held recording: oomph plus air.

It may be cheap, it may have been recorded this side of the Atlantic, but it never shows. This really is bargain Bernstein; his pupil's done him proud.

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