Home listening: Pappano’s Bernstein centenary tribute

Antonio Pappano and his Rome forces, joined by Beatrice Rana and Marie-Nicole Lémieux, show another side to Bernstein

• As a conductor, Leonard Bernstein had a warm involvement with Rome’s Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and as a result became the organisation’s president. To mark his centenary, Antonio Pappano, Santa Cecilia’s music director since 2005, has recorded Bernstein’s three symphonies (Warner Classics).

Bernstein The 3 Symphonies cd cover

Still not well known, these works are widely contrasting in style and far from the Bernstein of West Side Story, despite the recurring jazz elements. Questions of faith and redemption underpin each. No 1, “Jeremiah” (1942), broad and ambitious in reach, uses the Lamentations of the biblical prophet. The mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux delivers the last movement, Lamentation, with glowing power.

Symphony No 2, “The Age of Anxiety” (1949), takes its title from Auden’s poem. It’s more of a lop-sided piano concerto than a symphony, the piano always present but more questing that dominating, as soloist Beatrice Rana (right) so poetically communicates.

No 3, “Kaddish”, drawing from the Jewish prayer for the dead, is perhaps the hardest to bring off. It’s where Pappano and his top-notch orchestra are particularly successful. With Josephine Barstow as narrator and a crisp, committed performance from the musicians, the work loses that old tendency to embarrass, and gains a natural dignity and joy. This is an invaluable set for anyone wanting to know more of Bernstein’s concert works. These forces play No 1 at the Proms on 10 August.

• A core feature of the Edinburgh international festival, which opens this weekend, is the morning chamber music recitals from the Queen’s Hall. Listen live on Radio 3, 11am-1pm: the Dover Quartet (Monday 6 August); Nicola Benedetti and the Academy of Ancient Music (Tuesday); Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labèque (Wednesday); Ilker Arcayürek and Simon Lepper (Thursday); the Takács Quartet and Marc-André Hamelin (Friday).

Bernstein: The 3 Symphonies – trailer

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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