BERNSTEIN On the Waterfront. West Side Story dances
A compendium of popular and streetwise Lenny for Bernstein 100 – and the virtuoso trombonist in Christian Lindberg surely gives him a jazzer’s headstart on just how this music should go. It certainly feels that way.
I do so like how the ubiquitous Candide Overture is possessed here of the tightness and drive of its pit-band origins (the antithesis of Bernstein’s overblown DG account). There’s that hint of breathlessness and the spectre of a rictus grin to spirit us across continents to witness the worst of this best of all possible worlds. All this ghastliness going on and we’re all having such a lovely time.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic put on such a good show throughout this disc. The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story find them rounding corners that challenge the very best big bands; and while a touch more propulsion in the Prologue wouldn’t have gone amiss, ‘Mambo’ fires up nicely in an explosion of percussion with its mariachi first trumpet delivering bullseyes, while the drum kit-driven ‘Cool’ again belies symphonic size to convey a scaled-down theatrical immediacy. The rarefied, transporting air of ‘Somewhere’ is Broadway writ large.
The all-dancing aspects of the disc do Bernstein’s struttin’ NYC style proud. Fancy Free came fully formed into this world and I never stop wondering at how the hawkish Bernstein/Broadway sound was immediately there in all its pulsing energy. The wry irony, the galloping rhythms, the angular syncopations had his distinctive stamp on them from the start.
And then Fancy Free became On the Town (the most underrated of groundbreaking Broadway musicals), its dance episodes cut from the same streetwise cloth – the gorgeous neon-lit ‘Lonely town’ or ‘Times Square’, with its sleazy saxes purveying a slightly tawdry but winning cool. Lindberg has the flavour of it.
The star turn, though, is Bernstein’s only film score, On the Waterfront, encapsulated into a thrillingly atmospheric tone poem counterpointing the brutality of Elia Kazan’s Oscar-winning movie with its yearning and triumphant vindication of the human spirit. Lindberg and the RLPO relish its cinematic scope (Bernstein underscored 42 of the movie’s 108 minutes) from thunderous timpani-driven threat and altercation to the great love theme, which unforgettably keeps unfolding and re unfolding itself until it sweeps all before it.
The Apotheosis of the Suite and film is so typically one of those cathartic ever-hopeful Bernstein moments as Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy, beaten, bruised, down but not out, takes his long defiant walk back to work. Thrilling stuff, wonderfully captured by the BIS engineers.