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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2011

Bernstein’s many works for stage and concert hall have fared reasonably well on disc, but his chamber works are few and infrequently performed or recorded. Among them is the Clarinet Sonata, the composer’s first published piece, completed in 1942, and heard here in a transcription for violin and piano by William Terwilliger and performed by Terwilliger and Andrew Cooperstock, who have dubbed their duo Opus Two. Written earlier than the Clarinet Sonata, but not published until later, is the Violin Sonata of 1939, Bernstein’s only original work for this combination of instruments. And earlier still, 1937, is the Piano Trio, again, the composer’s only effort in this medium. The arrangements for violin and piano of movements from Candide are self-explanatory, but unless you have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of Bernstein’s output or have read the booklet note, you would not necessarily know that the Two House Songs are arrangements of “My House” from the 1950 incidental music to Peter Pan and “Take Care of this House” from the 1976 White House Cantata: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Two dozen or more recordings exist of the Clarinet Sonata in its original scoring, among which is my favorite on Sony’s The Essential Bernstein album with Stanley Drucker and Leonid Hambro. This is my first time hearing the piece transcribed for violin—I don’t know if it has been done by others—but I have heard a version for cello played by Yo-Yo Ma and Gilbert Kalish, also on Sony. The sonata is brief, only two movements lasting a total of about 11 minutes. Though still a student at Curtis when he wrote the piece, Bernstein challenges academic expectations. There’s some of Hindemith’s playfulness in the score—Hindemith having been one of Bernstein’s occasional teachers—but one already hears hints of the bluesy barrio music and the hyper-syncopated, jazzed-up style to come in the composer’s later works.

Ordinarily, as readers know, I’m not fond of transcriptions, but the Clarinet Sonata is more effective on violin than I expected. In no small part, this is due to Terwilliger’s imaginative playing in which he imitates some of the clarinet’s tonal and coloristic effects by means of harmonics and special bowing techniques such as sul tasto, flautando, and at one point what sounds like sul ponticello.

I was surprised to find so few recordings listed of Bernstein’s Violin Sonata and embarrassed that I don’t have a single one in my collection. Of the four entries found at ArkivMusic, two of them are on Naxos. An earlier album containing a medley of works by American composers includes the Violin Sonata played by Arnold Steinhardt of Guarneri Quartet fame.

The Violin Sonata, also in two movements, is not as inviting. It begins with a brief Moderato assai of somewhat indefinite tonality, which is followed by a theme and variations based on the first movement. It sounds as if Bernstein may have been influenced by Copland’s 1930 Piano Variations. Chords built up in fourths, grating dissonances, and nervous flurries of notes alternate with kinder, gentler passages that hint at melody but never quite seem to consummate it. The difficulties of the piece for listener and players alike may account for its not sparking more interest. Terwilliger’s tone turns a bit rough and raw in places, something I attribute to Bernstein’s less than well-considered demands on the violin. It may be that abrasiveness is what he wanted; it would explain why Bernstein later borrowed some of the sonata’s material for his later “Age of Anxiety” Symphony.

The Piano Trio was written while Bernstein was under the sway of Walter Piston at Harvard, though I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything by Piston that sounds like this. The three-movement work gets off to a good start with an Adagio introduction that offers some tasty melodic morsels that promise a satisfying meal to come. But the piece soon lapses into a bitonal bitumen of acrid note-spinning. The Trio hasn’t had many more advocates on disc than has the Violin Sonata. Cellist Charles Bernard joins Terwilliger and Cooperstock in a performance that pulls out all the stops for a piece that, frankly, I don’t think is apt to win a large following. Its best movement is its last, a wild, whirling dance flavored by a touch of klezmer.

American actress and singer Marin Mazzie, who sings the Two House Songs, has a voice perfectly suited to musical theater, a field in which she has distinguished herself in numerous stage productions, and has either won or been nominated for several prestigious awards. Eric Stern, who arranged the Two House Songs and the Four Movements from Candide for violin and piano, is a noted Broadway arranger and conductor. These pieces—some probably more familiar than others—are in Bernstein’s later, “popular” style.

This may not constitute the choicest collection of Bernstein’s music on disc, but all of it is given committed performances, and the disc can be recommended as a valuable addition to the composer’s chamber-music discography.

Philip Clark
Gramophone, April 2011

A fascinating disc that reveals Bernstein’s influences and compositional process

I’ve written before about Bernstein assembling pieces where every note, gesture and timbre is hooked off other music but comes out sounding like Bernstein anyway. Works like Kaddish and Mass poach an incisive structural sharpness from Bernstein’s stylistic cut-and-paste, and this disc of early chamber works show those same impulses were already at play during the great man’s student years.

As a sweetener, there are two Eric Stern transcriptions. Four Moments from ‘Candide’ for violin and piano could well become a latter-day Carmen Fantasy given time (and a better title). William Terwilliger’s coloratura violin in “Glitter and be gay”, coming complete with bungee-jumping glissandos and gravity-don’t-bother-me note leaps, is infused with the spirit of Bernstein’s original vocal lines but sounds effortlessly violinistic. The Two House Songs, “Take Care of this House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and “My House” from Peter Pan, is second-tier in comparison, pleasant enough nevertheless.

But back to those unexpectedly revealing chamber works. The first movement of the 1937 Piano Trio—written when Bernstein was 19!—is perched somewhere between Wagner and Brahms, then (at 5’20”) an obvious allusion to Beethoven, shoe-horned in from nowhere, nudges the music towards a late piano sonata-like fugal texture; and then the second movement is full-strength vaudeville, like a dummy run at “Gee, Officer Krupke”. Terwilliger’s violin transcription of Bernstein’s 1942 Clarinet Sonata makes a connection I’d previously missed: the circular melodies and wandering-ear harmonies of the opening Grazioso hint at melodic contours Bernstein would explore a decade later in his Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium).

Bernstein’s actual Violin Sonata (1939) cues up the rolling variation technique heard subsequently in Age of Anxiety, Dybbuk and Touches - Age of Anxiety even recycles material form the sonata. And so the Bernstein formula for composition was born—borrow what you like, it’s the resonance and inventiveness of the mix that counts.

Jack Sullivan
American Record Guide, March 2011

The bulk of this fascinating program is given over to Bernstein’s early chamber music, including a Piano Trio he wrote at 19. According to the notes, these youthful pieces have numerous premonitions of the mature composer, but I must confess I don’t hear them except perhaps in the perky syncopations of the Clarinet Sonata (here arranged for violin) and the beautiful final variation of the Violin Sonata, which has a hint of the Bernsteinian lyricism. The outer movements have a Hindemithian stateliness and structure; the faster movements are lively, but neo-classical. Thoroughly tonal, the harmonies nonetheless have plenty of bite. In sound and shape, this skillfully constructed music sounds European.

The songs from Peter Pan, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Candide are nicely arranged by Eric Stern. They inhabit a different, thoroughly American world. With their distinctive lyricism and open-heartedness, they could only have been written by Leonard Bernstein. The performances are lively and loving. (Opera fans should be aware that Marin Mazzie is an unapologetically Broadway singer.) Bernstein’s many fans will want to have this album, especially since it offers so many rarities.

MusicWeb International, February 2011

Some admirers of Bernstein’s popular works may be surprised to learn that he wrote any chamber music. Well, there is not very much of it—this CD is essentially Bernstein’s complete chamber works for violin. Even then, only two of them are genuine Bernstein—all but the Violin Sonata and the Piano Trio are arrangements.

In any case, with one minor exception these are all early works, giving a tantalising glimpse of a kind of ‘parallel universe’ Bernstein—one that did not take up an illustrious conducting career or devote himself to writing for musical theatre.

Bernstein composed the Piano Trio while still a teenager; it was not published until 1979. It is full of vigour and wit, and shows great promise. The two sonatas are both in two movements. The Sonata for Violin and Piano dates from 1939 according to the disc, 1940 according to New Grove. Its second movement is an exciting set of variations; this is the longest stretch of music by far on the CD, and, probably not coincidentally, the most profound. The Clarinet Sonata, in Terwilliger’s splendid transcription, emerges as Bernstein’s second violin sonata.

The last two works on the CD, the ‘House’ Songs and Four Moments from ‘Candide’ are really as much the work of Broadway conductor-arranger Eric Stern as they are of Bernstein. They were commissioned especially for this disc by Terwilliger and Cooperstock—as they put it in their note, “to fill out this recording”…but such a description does them less justice than they merit.

The Moments are four songs from Candide, ‘I Am Easily Assimilated’, ‘You Were Dead, You Know’, ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ and ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, genially and wittily shaped into a surprisingly attractive, and, especially in the riotous ‘Glitter and Be Gay’, virtuosic whole by Stern.

Of the two so-called ‘House’ songs, the first, ‘My House’, is again an early work, taken from Bernstein’s 1950 incidental music for Barrie’s Peter Pan. The other, ‘Take Care of this House’ comes from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, written in 1976, Bernstein’s penultimate dramatic work. Both songs are beautifully sung by Marin Mazzie, who has oodles of experience in this kind of repertory, which might be termed the ‘serious end’ of musical theatre.

These two pieces do feel a little out of place on an otherwise entirely instrumental disc—Bernstein’s piano sonata would have been a more obvious fit. On the other hand, some might find the songs a welcome interlude—in which case, they may have been more thoughtfully placed before the Piano Trio. At any rate, it could be argued that adding an extra element to Bernstein’s original voice and piano—the orchestrations for Peter Pan and 1600 were not his—is a merely academic exercise; but the songs do cohere well as a pair and, as with the Moments, the result is rather haunting.

Terwilliger and Cooperstock perform splendidly throughout, and the recording is excellent. The artwork on the front of the CD is best described as trendy, as is the phrase in the booklet notes that reveals that Opus Two have “concertized extensively”. But in all other respects the CD represents a worthy purchase for all fans of Bernstein and of mid-20th century American chamber music., December 2010

Leonard Bernstein’s “serious” music is not easy for many to hear, even two decades after Bernstein’s death. In addition to his ever-popular stage works, Bernstein wrote a good deal of music that was intentionally rather difficult, as if to prove his bona fides as a composer. Some of this music can be dry and academic, but Bernstein’s chamber music—of which he wrote very little—is effective and interesting. William Terwilliger arranged the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano for violin, and plays it very well indeed on Naxos’ new Bernstein CD—also offering a fine performance of the Sonata for Violin and Piano (which is very early Bernstein, written in 1939, when the composer was 21). The Piano Trio is even earlier (1937) and, if rather derivative, does show Bernstein’s mastery of classical forms. Eric Stern’s arrangements of music from Bernstein’s theater works (Two House Songs and Four Moments from “Candide”) provide a chance to contrast the “serious” chamber music with chamber versions of Bernstein’s work in a more “popular” style—in which, it must be said, there is a good deal more ebullience on display.

James Manheim, December 2010

The category “chamber music of Leonard Bernstein” is sparsely populated, and the performers here have to struggle to fill it out. Aside from some pieces for brass ensemble, Bernstein wrote chamber music only at the very beginning of his career, and this release presents all three works involved. The Sonata for clarinet and piano, here arranged for violin, became, in 1941, Bernstein’s first published work; the Sonata for violin and piano and Trio for violin, cello, and piano were composed by Bernstein while he was still a student at Harvard, in the case of the violin sonata for a friend, Raphael Hillyer, who went on to co-found the Juilliard Quartet. From later in Bernstein’s career come various songs and instrumental pieces from musicals, all attractive enough, but none giving much insight into how he thought about chamber music. The good news is that the early pieces are a treat for Bernstein fans, who are unlikely to have heard them, or at least heard them all. They’re basically lighthearted, and they’re rooted in the neo-classic spirit of the day, but they’re full of big intra-movement contrasts that give hints of the ambitious scope of Bernstein’s instrumental music to come (not so much of the great musical theater melodist). The two “house songs”—songs about houses from the musicals Peter Pan (1950) and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976)—are done with a nice straightforwardness by soprano Marin Mazzie, and they’d make excellent (and largely unfamiliar) recital items for student singers. More an intriguing collection of Bernstein miscellanea than a thematically connected program, this is recommended for Bernstein lovers.

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