Clarinet Concerto Import
There has never been a better interpreter of Copland's music than Leonard Bernstein. Lenny's affection for--and understanding of--Copland and his music was matched by a unique physical ability to get the feeling of the music across as a conductor; in essence, he became the music when he conducted it, something Copland himself wasn't capable of. As a consequence, Bernstein's accounts of Copland's music speak with a convincing accent and special authority. That's certainly the case with these performances, which date from the last year of Bernstein's life and find him reunited with his old band, the New York Philharmonic. The bookends are the Music for the Theatre, from 1925, and Connotations for Orchestra, commissioned by Bernstein and the Philharmonic for the opening of their new home at Lincoln Center in 1962. Both are impressively done, as is El Salón México, one of the most rousing and colorful of Copland's orchestral essays. A different Copland emerges in the Clarinet Concerto, which was composed for Benny Goodman in 1947 and fashioned with a lapidary touch. The Philharmonic's principal clarinet, Stanley Drucker, steps easily into the solo role, playing with great sensitivity in the pensive opening movement--which, with Lenny on the podium, sounds very slow and full of tenderness, though perhaps a bit too poignant--and showing plenty of agility in the concerto's finale, where Latin and jazz elements come into play along with the high notes that were one of Goodman's specialties. --Ted Libbey
El Salon Mexico has a slow tempo to it, (as do all of these recordings), and so the swaying dance rhythms are not as pronounced. Copland's own version is better. But LB still infuses the music with a strong sense of life that I can't quite describe exactly. It must be that unique Bernstein style, which Copland obviously lacked. The clarinet concerto, featuring the above mentioned Mr. Drucker, is very smooth and beautiful, with strong touches of Mahler in the first movement. Now, of course, Mr. Drucker is not Benny Goodman, who made a fantastic recording of this work with AC conducting decades ago. Benny's is the standard recording. But Drucker, the principal clarinetist of the NYPO for about a million years, knows just what to do with this music in a classical sense. No one could top him there. As for the Dance Suite, it is a decent work with very jazzy moods, and is quite similar to Bernstein's own music on occasion. LB is naturally at home here. Ending the disc is the Connotations for Orchestra, a work LB premiered at the opening of Lincoln Center back in 1962. This work has never been much liked by critics, and LB got much of the blame for the poor reception of this music. Bernstein just never seemed to respond, so they have said, to the serialist, 12 tone, modernist school of composition. But I beg to differ, as I found this piece to be the best on the cd. You could still hear traces of Copland's populist style, with it's wide open plains and prairies, in this Schoenbergian music. But I could also hear a little of LB's music too, namely the Kaddish symphony, the On the Waterfront music, and especially the ballet Dybbuk. I think Connotations in a fine work and may be one of the most unfairly condemned works ever by a truly great composer. It also might be AC's last truly great work.
The sound on this DG recording is very good, as Bernstein does a better job here with these four works than he did for Columbia records. The only reason I wouldn't give this 5 stars are for El Salon being not as good as AC's version, and the Dance Suite being a bit too much of a throw away piece. Otherwise this cd is recommended.-----------------PEACE