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Competent but ...

'Bernstein: Music for
Film and Theatre' -
reviewed by REX HARLEY

'The rationale behind this disc escapes me.'

Bernstein. Orchestre Lamoureux. Yutako Sado. Kim Criswell. © 2004 Warner Classics

The rationale behind this disc escapes me. What it claims to offer is 'Bernstein: Music for Film and Theatre'. What we actually get is a strange mish-mash of Bernstein snatches, a bit of pseudo-Bernstein and one full-length orchestral piece: the symphonic suite from On the Waterfront.

The CD opens with the overture to Candide [listen -- track 1, 3:25-4:31], in a performance which is not less than competent, but not a great deal more. Compared with the composer's own reading, it lacks brightness, gaiety, joie de vivre if you will. Or, put more simply, it just doesn't swing.

Next up is a single song, chosen to represent the vocal richness of the musical. Actually, it's a damned good one: I Am Easily Assimilated; and it's sung by Kim Criswell. So we might expect things to liven up a bit. Sadly, they don't -- for several reasons.

First, it may be by Bernstein, but it's been tampered with in a rather important way: there's no chorus. The members of the orchestra have presumably been enlisted to whoop and holler towards the end, or perhaps the studio assistants; but the funniest line in the song -- (written, apparently, by Bernstein's wife) -- depends for its comic effect on the call/response of chorus and singer. Second, Criswell overstates the character she's performing while failing to bring out her ambiguities. Her final, supposedly exuberant whoop sounds more like a shriek. Third, she also has to work pretty hard against the orchestra at times [listen -- track 2, 2:59-3:49]. It's not a live performance so what was the mixing engineer playing at?

Perhaps the next track, at over sixteen minutes, will give a truer representation of Leonard Bernstein's particular genius. Having had the overture and one song, we now get the suite from Candide; the suite, that is, in an arrangement by the composer's assistant, Charlie Harmon. And once again we're into that same musical no-man's land of Competent but Dull; this time the arrangement as well as the performance.

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Copyright © 15 December 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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