Wednesday, 26 June 2013

16. Bernstein Serenade after Plato's "Symposium"

Leonard Bernstein
photo by Jack Mitchell
Next in my American composers feature, is the wonderful Serenade after Plato's "Symposium" by Leonard Bernstein. This recording features excellent American musicians and is well worth discovering.

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. He was among the first American born and educated conductors to receive worldwide acclaim. He is best known as a conductor and long standing music director of the New York Philharmonic. As a composer he is known for his musicals West Side Story, Candide, Wonderful Town and On the Town. While I enjoy Bernstein's musicals very much, I also enjoy many of his other compositions, which I think are still largely under appreciated. I particularly like
his symphonies, Chichester Psalms and the Serenade for Solo Violin.

The Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion, which could equally be referred to as Bernstein's Violin Concerto, was written in 1954. The Serenade is an unusual five-movement concerto
inspired by Plato's Symposium, a dialogue of related statements in praise of love, each statement made by a distinguished speaker. The five speakers who inspired Bernstein's five movements are:
1. Phaedrus: Pausanias-lento and allegro
2. Aristophanes-allegretto
3. Eryximachus, the doctor-presto
4. Agathon-adagio
5. Socrates: Alcibiades-molto tenuto and allegro molto vivace

Joshua Bell Leonard Bernstein Violin Serenade Philharmonia Orchestra David Zinman

The Serenade has been recorded multiple times and is Bernstein's most recorded non-theatre piece. My favourite recording of the Serenade is played by Joshua Bell and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Zinman. Joshua Bell, who is one of my favourite violinists, is consistently good, especially in new or little known repertoire. His recordings of works by Nicholas Maw, John Corigliano and this recording of Bernstein's Serenade are notable examples. On this recording Joshua Bell's playing is effortless, with furious intensity in the faster passages and a beautiful tone in the lyrical sections. The blisteringly fast final moments of the Serenade are thrilling and executed by Joshua Bell with crisp precision. Overall this is a wonderful piece of music well worth hearing and discovering.

Below is a youTube performance played by Vadim Gluzman and the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra conducted by Carlos Kalmar:

Links to the recording (track 4-8):

Bernstein: West Side Story Suite - David Zinman, Joshua Bell & Philharmonia Orchestra USA Store
Bernstein: West Side Story Suite - David Zinman, Joshua Bell & Philharmonia Orchestra UK Store
Bernstein: West Side Story Suite - David Zinman, Joshua Bell & Philharmonia Orchestra Germany Store

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