Bernstein Dybbuk; Fancy Free
If when Jerome Robbins and the New York City Ballet commissioned Dybbuk from Leonard Bernstein they were expecting a populist pot-boiler like Fancy Free, then Bernstein instead turned in one of his most psychologically and compositionally complex scores. Based on the drama by Israeli writer Shlomo Ansky, Dybbuk (1974) draws on a broad range of Jewish folklore and other source material; the opening vocal chanting by two male voices is based on the Jewish Sabbath Service, while the work has a dignified solemnity that obviously came from somewhere deep.
Bernstein's own recordings aside, Dybbuk hasn't fared well in the recording studio and it's refreshing to hear this cogently conceived interpretation. Like his Kaddish Symphony, Bernstein puts tonal material into a testy dialectic with atonal commentaries, but while this strategy gives Kaddish a natural curvature of the spine, Dybbuk is episodic and needs clear structural direction. Andrew Mogrelia assembles Bernstein's sections into a taut mosaic, and the lavishly detailed playing of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra showcases Bernstein's savvy orchestral timbres. The sometimes sparse and pointillistic nature of the writing is unexpected, and this is one of his most disciplined and cerebral scores.
Thirty years earlier, Fancy Free was wowing New York musical life for precisely the opposite reasons. The exuberance of Bernstein's imagination let the music all hang out, and Mogrelia certainly enjoys the hang. The unnamed orchestral pianist does a fine job with the swinging obbligato piano part, and it's good to hear a full version of the introductory “jukebox” song “Big Stuff”. Great stuff.