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Bernstein: Overture and Suite from "Candide"; Five Songs; Three Meditations from "Mass"; Divertimento for Orchestra

Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra

Beth Clayton, mezzo-soprano
Anthony Ross, cello

Reference Recordings RR-87CD

Playing Time: 64:55

Anthony Kershaw
Cover Image

The great Cleveland Orchestra oboist, John Mack, once described Leonard Bernstein as "half genius and half charlatan". For the most part, the inspiration behind the music on this latest Reference Recording CD refers to Bernstein the former. Bernstein protégé, Eiji Oue and his Minnesota Orchestra have chosen four disparate works that illustrate the brilliance and variety of one of America's foremost musicians.

This shining brilliance explodes right at the start with the Overture to Candide. Nicely paced and executed superbly by conductor and orchestra, the ebullience of the work sets the mood for Charlie Harmon's arrangement of the more substantial Suite from Candide. What a pleasure it was to make this music's acquaintance. Harmon was Bernstein's personal assistant and music editor, giving the expert Mr. Harmon a bullseye into the heart of Broadway's little-known score. And with this arrangement, he hits the mark. The music emanates from the speakers with charm and grace, hinting at the influence of Strauss and Elgar. The performance and recording are magnificent. As such, a high benchmark has been set for subsequent recordings.

Bernstein's love of, and dedication to, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is well documented. This passion is embodied in the exuberant Divertimento, written in celebration of the orchestra's Centenary. The music is lighthearted and highlights the BSO's virtuosity. Again, the Minnesotans do the music great service and give Bernstein's much-vaunted DG recording a run for its money.

Less successful are the Three Meditations. Taken from the 1971 Mass, one can only imagine the polyester-clad happening celebrating the opening of Washington DC's Kennedy Center, with Bernstein's music trying to heal the wounds of the world in a single night! Thankfully, the Three Meditations dispense with the rock band, quadraphonic tape effects, and cheeseball philosophy, leaving but a solo cellist to tackle the large orchestra in the meandering triptych.

Admirers of Bernstein may buy this CD for the Candide, but will stay for the Five Songs. Bernstein writes superbly for the voice, as these songs attest. They span a thirty-year period of his life, and are arranged by long time Bernstein collaborator, Sid Ramin. Beth Clayton, mezzo-soprano, sings beautifully, while highlighting the interesting texts (by writers as varied as Rilke and Betty Comden).

The usual Reference Recordings "house" sound is here in all its glory. Incredible bass impact, rich midrange and a very silky treble dominate engineer Keith Johnson's paean to Bernstein's sound world. Johnson's super consistency with Reference is quite staggering. Indeed, the music business is very lucky to have him. Highly recommended.

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