BERNSTEIN Complete Solo Piano Works
The race to celebrate the 2018 centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth is on. Performances and symposiums will abound, as will a cascade of recordings and videos saluting this unique individual’s myriad artistic contributions. Among the first out of the starting gate is Andrew Cooperstock’s winning two-CD set comprising Bernstein’s complete solo works for piano. Given that Bernstein did so many things on a grand scale and with theatrical flair, it’s refreshing to hear how much care and imagination he lavished on music of intimate personality for the instrument he played so splendidly.
And these pieces are often intimate beyond the keyboard. The set’s first disc is devoted to the 29 ‘Anniversaries’ Bernstein composed in tribute to friends and relations. These short creations, written over more than four decades, open a window into the composer’s sentimental side. They are affectionate and playful, dignified and witty, as suggested by each dedicatee’s personality. The subjects include beloved colleagues (Aaron Copland, Stephen Sondheim, Serge Koussevitzky, David Diamond) and others who played key roles in Bernstein’s life. The second disc contains more extended works, among them the Sonata for the Piano (not ‘Sonata for Piano’) that Bernstein wrote in 1938 while a student at Harvard. The two movements look to then-recent masters such as Prokofiev, but the writing is tightly knit and full of lyrical and rhythmic hints of music to come. One of Bernstein’s earliest piano forays is his arrangement of Copland’s orchestral El Salón México for solo piano, an explosion of keyboard colours.
Bernstein returned to short forms for Bridal Suite (1960), written to mark the marriage of the lyricist Adolph Green, one of his collaborators on On the Town and Wonderful Town, and the actress Phyllis Newman. The opening Prelude is a hoot, blending Ave Maria with ‘Just in time’ and Bach’s Prelude in C major. The collection is scored for piano four hands, which Cooperstock, brilliant and sensitive throughout the set, manages deftly, thanks to the magic of recording.