Summary for the Busy Executive: Bargain-basement Bernstein.
Naxos has packaged three of Bernstein's most popular works on one budget CD. Many reviewers, especially those in England, have gone ga-ga over it, including putting it on their Best of the Month lists. Whatever they hear, I'm not hearing. I think the performances okay, although they certainly fall short of Bernstein's own readings. Alsop has always struck me as a clear-headed, rather than a passionate conductor, and her accounts here bear that out. There are some lovely subtleties in the reading, particularly a nicely-judged accelerando and crescendo toward the end of the third movement of the Chichester Psalms, but Bernstein – who handled his own music more roughly – gets more drama and jolts. Alsop's rhythmic moments seem flaccid (although probably more accurate) next to the composer's. She turns Bernstein's drama into good taste, a Cajun crawfish boil into watercress sandwiches at the Ritz-Carlton. I kept wishing the girl would let herself (and the orchestra) go.
On the other hand, it's a budget disc, very well recorded. If you don't know these works and want to experiment, give it a whirl. That's about the only way I'd recommend them. If you do know these works, you probably have Bernstein's superior performances already.
Copyright © 2008, Steve Schwartz