West Side Story/Bernstein

June 17, 2010

Introduced in September of 1957 on Broadway by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story was an immediate success and subsequently became a 10 time Oscar winning film in 1961 from Robert Wise.

The symphonic dances premiered in February 1961 with Lukas Foss conducting the New York Philharmonic. A pops orchestra consider this a staple in the repertoire of performed works. The 22 plus minute suite has instantly recognizable memories such as “Maria” and “Somewhere” so audiences truly enjoy the listening experience this work has to offer. The “Tonight” theme, another famous melody isn’t included in the suite. It is vivacious with the mambos, jazzy orchestrations, and bright percussion. Put this into the category of an attention grabber with its modern sound but easy enough to an occasional listener to understand. The bright playing of the brass, the dissonant chords, and foot stomping percussion has given this piece an important place in history. Even the vivid red cover art with the dancers on the stairs has become something of an icon.

As an admirer of Aaron Copland it is similar to hear some of the same style, harmony, and tempo of music from both composers. One only has to listen to the “Scherzo” to hear the strains of Copland. While famous for his conducting, Leonard did produce several major works during his lifetime including one Hollywood film On The Waterfront, to which there is also a symphonic suite available previously reviewed. His one film resulted in an Oscar nomination giving him a 100% track record something few if any film composers can boast of. The Munich orchestra conducted by Ulf Schirmer gives a snappy listening recording obviously understanding how an American musical needs to be played.

There are many recordings to choose from as far as the West Side Story symphonic suite is concerned but there aren’t a lot of choices as far as Trouble In Tahiti, the 40 minute one act opera is concerned. I wasn’t familiar with this work at all but to my surprise I found it to be quite entertaining, performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra and a talented singing group. Based on Bernstein’s family life it is a witty well performed opera. Consider this as an addition to your collection.

West Side Story: Symphonic Dances

Munich Radio Orchestra

Schirmer, Ulf, Conductor

1. I. Prologue 00:04:22

2. II. Somewhere 00:04:26

3. III. Scherzo 00:01:21

4. IV. Mambo 00:02:18

5. V. Cha – cha 00:00:57

6. VI. Meeting Scene 00:00:35

7. VII. Cool 00:00:51

8. VIII. Fugue 00:02:54

9. IX. Rumble 00:01:55

10. X. Finale 00:03:30

Bernstein, Leonard

Bernstein, Leonard, lyricist(s)

Trouble in Tahiti

Criswell, Kim, mezzo-soprano

Gilfry, Rodney, baritone

Grimson, Martene, soprano

Dwyer, Adrian, tenor

Collett, Ronan, baritone

Munich Radio Orchestra

Schirmer, Ulf, Conductor

11. Prelude: Mornin’ Sun (Trio) 00:03:23

12. Scene 1: How could you say (Sam, Dinah, Trio) 00:05:34

13. Scene 2: Yes Oh Mister Partridge! (Sam, Trio) 00:02:56

14. Scene 3: I was standing in a garden (Dinah) – Scene 2a: Miss Brown (Sam) – Scene 3a: Then the desire took hold inside me (Dinah) 00:07:52

15. Scene 4: Well, of all people (Sam, Dinah) 00:05:09

16. Interlude: Lovely day! (Trio) 00:01:51

17. Scene 5: There’s a law (Sam) 00:04:12

18. Scene 6: What a movie (Dinah, Trio) 00:04:53

19. Scene 6a: There’s a law (Sam) – Scene 7: Evening Shadows (Sam, Dinah, Trio) 00:08:01

Elgin Heuerding in conversation with Ulf Schirmer

Heuerding, Elgin, narrator

Schirmer, Ulf, narrator

20. Elgin Heuerding in conversation with Ulf Schirmer 00:10:12

Total Playing Time: 01:17:12

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