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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Serenade for solo violin and strings is one of the deepest, most ambitious works that Bernstein ever wrote, which makes it a pity that he gave this half-hour work the title ‘Serenade’, suggesting lightness, rather than calling it a full violin concerto. Philippe Quint gives a thoughtful, refined reading of a work inspired by the idea of mirroring Plato’s Symposium. He is well supported by Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth orchestra. Facsimile is a ballet score on the theme of post-war life…is most effective in the fast music, which distantly echoes West Side Story. The Divertimento, written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is an occasional piece that has its moments of fun…Excellent sound.

R.D., February 2006

As for Marin Alsop and her Bournemouth SO, vividly recorded by Andrew Walton and Mike Clements (producer and engineer, respectively) in Lighthouse, Poole, she does commendably by her mentor Bernstein, although his own versions of Facsimile (1947) are all more theatrical in that singular Lenny way, whether with a NYC pick-up orchestra, the Philharmonic, or the Israel PO. I have always suspected that the triviality of Divertimento, his Boston SO centennial contribution of 1980, was in part a snide reminder that the trustees didn’t hire him when Koussevitzky was asked to step down in 1948 but chose instead CharlesMunch. Alsop does it, however, with as much dignity as the music allows – not that she is straight-laced – and delivers a winner’s circle performance of the Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings Harp and Percussion (“after Plato’s Symposium”), LB’s only work in 1954 before he tackled Candide, then West Side Story. The soloist is Philippe Quint (who has added a “pe” pedant to his first name since recording William Schuman’s Violin Concerto for Naxos in its original form). His performance is elegantly sinuous and musically subtle – preferable on my CD player to Gidon Kremer or Zino Francescatti among numerous others who have recorded what remains, for me, Bernstein’s finest concert work, despite the pretentiousness of his source material. After all, it’s not that anyone has to read Plato to be moved by the music, or give a damn for that matter that the Serenade was “inspired” by a literary source. In other words,recommended straight, place and show.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, February 2006

The Serenade is nothing short of being a violin concerto, and quite a substantial and demanding one at that. In some ways it occupies a similar emotional world to Lourié’s ‘Concerto da Camera’ or Stravinsky’s ‘Apollon Musagète’, being lyrical and restrained – here and there with a slightly other-worldly character which reflects its subject matter. Bernstein described it as a "series of related statements in praise of love", and each movement is derived from characters in Plato’s Symposium. Such figures provide the impetus for declamatory writing for the solo violin and extended conversations with the orchestra. There are barely any jazz allusions and while there are some typical excursions into a kind of ‘salon’ style, Bernstein allows himself to explore themes and motives at greater depth than almost anywhere else in his compositions. Possibly for this reason he called it his "most satisfying" work, and who are we to disagree.

Facsimile was written for a ballet choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and has the post-war spiritual malaise as its central theme. Two men vie for the attentions of a woman, but without sincerity or true meaning to their relationships the whole thing ends in vacuous and inconclusive frustration. The drama is essentially psychological, and much of the music in the first part has a wistfully lyrical atmosphere, with excellent, sensitive solos from the orchestra. The second section involves a concertante piano part in sparring with a more burlesque orchestral development, which builds to a suitably rhythmic climax before settling into a short coda which reprises the atmosphere of the opening.

The Divertimento for Orchestra was one of Bernstein’s last compositions, and is a celebration and tribute to the Boston Symphony Orchestra; with a two note ‘B-C’ (Boston Centenary) motif running throughout. Bernstein revels in the full spectrum of the orchestra’s potential, with sardonic dances, his own little ‘Enigma’ movement (Sphynxes), a strip show (Blues), a Memorial to deceased members of the Boston Symphony, and appropriately finishing with an absurd march: ‘The BSO Forever’, which I’m sure made the Bournemouth ‘BSO’ players smile.

The playing here is superb throughout, from Philip Quint’s marvellous solo violin to the farting contrabassoon in the Divertimento. Marin Alsop’s interpretations are straightforward and eloquent, allowing Bernstein’s voice to speak clearly and convincingly. I defy anyone to find themselves sorry they bought this CD – it’s what we former employees of Farringdon Records call ‘a winner.’

Matthew Rye
The Daily Telegraph (Australia), January 2006

Bernstein’s Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion deserves to be better known, and warrants a place among the more popular 20th-century violin concertos in concert programmes. As its title suggests, it is less a virtuoso vehicle than some, though its more lyrical demeanour provides challenges of its own. These Philippe Quint sails through, with playing full of firm tone and shapeliness. It is true that this meditation on love, inspired by Plato, has its moments of typical Bernstein sentimentality, but there is also plenty of muscle in its rhythms and orchestral writing, and Marin Alsop’s direction is firm yet pliant.

The two couplings are no less enjoyable: Bernstein’s “choreographic essay” Facsimile, a reflective exploration of human relationships; and the Divertimento he wrote, towards the end of his life, as an often riotous celebration of the Boston Symphony’s centenary. Again, Alsop’s hand is much in evidence, drawing well-rounded playing from her Bournemouth orchestra – playing that encompasses characterful solo cameos as successfully as the controlled rowdiness of the Bernstein’s exuberance in full cry, nowhere more so than in the Divertimento’s final march.

Classic FM, January 2006

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Remy Louis
Diapason, January 2006

Still not well known in France yet, (Russian born) Philippe Quint enlightens the Serenade with spontaneous and nimble expression and with a grand precise rhythm. Each movement,remarkably played and offers a wide variety of colors. As his name doesn't show it (first name coming for the admiration of the Kings of France by his mother, last name originates in Italy) this student of Andrei Korsakov became US citizen in 1991. He had already recorded a violin concerto by William Schuman with Jose Serebrier and Bournemouth Symphony and the other one with Lukas Foss with the composer at the piano. This recording of the Serenade confirms the interest that young violinist has in this chef d'oeuvre. Having just put aside the recent Naxos issue of Kaddish [review] I was enthusiastic about discovering more of Bernstein’s music, which, short of the ‘Prelude, Fugue and Riffs’ which I’ve known since being in nappies, I was disturbed to find I knew hardly at all. As one might expect, this is somewhat lighter material than Bernstein’s religious music, but in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop’s capable hands it certainly doesn’t lack in heft.

Remy Louis
Diapason, January 2006

Roderic Dunnett
The Strad, January 2006

This splendid tribute to the diverse genius of Leonard Bernstein. His serenade, composed in 1954, drew inspiration from Plato’s Symposium and colorfully mimics the dialogue’s characters and their contrasting speeches in honour of love. Philippe Quint is an enchanting soloist: his ability to conjure up playful banter, wistfulness and bravado reveals a glorious, appetizing range of colours and moods. Both the mysteriously lyrical central slow passage (for Aristophanes) and quicksilver ensuing Scherzo are beautifully managed, with double-stopped harmonics lending added piquancy, while Marin Alsop produces brilliantly fresh and alive playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s strings.

There are beguiling touches for solo violins, too, midway through Facsimile, in which perky, rhythmic dance element akin to Copland later surfaces. The strings’ playing in the five-in-a-bar Waltz of the Divertimento is pure enchantment; so is a clip-clopping Turkey Trot and the punchy parody of the finale. All of this is beautifully captured by Naxos’s recording.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, December 2005

"Bernstein’s Serenade for solo violin, strings, harp, and percussion was inspired by Plato’s Symposium and the composer described it as a “series of related statements in praise of love.” This is the only performance I know which treats it that way, rather than as a snazzy solo concerto. It’s partly to do with conductor Marin Alsop’s measured approach to tempo: the work bounces along, but the syncopated rhythms never race out of control, and moments of excitement are never whipped up in order to generate a buzz. It’s also partly to do with the soloist. Philippe Quint’s smooth-toned violin persuades and cajoles: there are flights of fancy, but there is also reasoned argument. In short, this really does sound like a group of articulate protagonists in intellectual parlay (a situation Bernstein himself loved to be in). Marin Alsop was a protegee of the composer, and here she salutes his memory by taking the program of the Serenade seriously. The aforementioned sections of the Bournemouth orchestra are disciplined and tight.

The ballet score, Facsimile, perhaps needs to be drawn out of its shell a little more; it is the least flashy of Bernstein’s early concert works. Alsop and the orchestra do it justice, but this is one of those rare cases where only the composer (on Sony and Deutsche Grammophon) can bring it to shining life. Jerome Robbins’s ballet was set to a nihilistic scenario of “post war malaise and the spiritual vacuum of modern man,” to quote the notes. (I thought the post-war era was optimistic! Robbins should have been around now.) The music is, likewise, a little gray, though Bernstein’s natural ebullience peeps through whenever it can. In any case, the playful moments need to be more playful, the dramatic fortes a little more dramatic than they are allowed to be here. The prominent piano part is nicely integrated into the orchestral fabric in this spacious recording.

Facsimile is an exception to my theory (which I’m sticking to) that, generally, Bernstein’s music speaks for itself and it’s musicality suffers when points are over-emphasized or climaxes inflated. The late Divertimento (written for the centenary of the Boston SO) provides a good example. Once more, Alsop reins in the highjinks and as a result, the piece seems more substantial and less “occasional” than usual. These works are available in the composer’s recordings and many other fine interpretations exist (such as Hilary Hahn’s dazzling Serenade, with David Zinman conducting the Baltimore SO on Sony—if it’s still around) but Naxos gives us more than mere bargain-basement versions. These are smart, sharply realized, well-recorded performances."

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, December 2005

THE MUSIC: As loved as Leonard Bernstein's theater music is, his concert pieces haven't caught on quite as much. Perhaps the most popular is the Serenade for Violin and Orchestra, loosely – very loosely – inspired by Plato's Symposium. Essentially it's a violin concerto in the tuneful American tradition of Samuel Barber, and none the worse for that. The ballet Facsimile sometimes sounds like outtakes from West Side Story, and the late Divertimento is just good, clean fun.

THE PERFORMANCES: Marin Alsop and her Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have become reliable purveyors of the American repertoire, and they don't disappoint here. With an American at the helm, even British players can swing. Violinist Philippe Quint makes the most of the Serenade's ethereal violin solos.

BOTTOM LINE: Good tunes, infectious rhythms. What's not to love?

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, December 2005

"Would Leonard Bernstein's 1954 Serenade after Plato's Symposium for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion be played more often if it was called simply " Violin Concerto"? Probably; its neglect in concert halls, British ones at least, is certainly nothing to do with its quality. And it's done full justice by the formidable techinque and shapely phrasing of the Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint, with outstanding support from violinist-turned-conductor Marin Alsop and her ever-improving Bournemouth Symphony. Their performance stands up to most of their challenging competition on the disc...Altogether, then, a REAL WINNER."

David Gutman
Gramophone, December 2005

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Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, November 2005

"No reservations . . . about Alsop's Bernstein disc for Naxos, recorded with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (she has been its principal conductor since 2002). It's a grabber from the first notes. Everything clicks brilliantly in the Serenade. Philippe Quint is the sterling violin soloist; the ensemble sounds taut and fully engaged; Alsop gets right to the heart of the ingenious music, which deserves to be as well known to American audiences as any European violin concerto.

The conductor illuminates the multiple layers of Bernstein's intense, haunting ballet Facsimile and revels in the prismatic coloring and wit of his late-career Divertimento. Hot stuff."

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