BERNSTEIN: Complete Solo Works for Piano – Andrew Cooperstock, piano – Bridge 

by | Aug 14, 2017 | Classical CD Reviews

BERNSTEIN: Complete Solo Works for Piano = Seven Anniversaries; Four Anniversaries; Five Anniversaries; Thirteen Anniversaries; Touches: Chorale, Eight Variations and Coda; Sonata for the Piano; Non Troppo Presto; Music for the Dance, No. II; Four Sabras; El Salon Mexico (arr. Bernstein); Bridal Suite; Three Encores – Andrew Cooperstock, piano – Bridge 9485A/B (2 CDs) 44:09; 60:13 (6/16/17) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The diverse range of Leonard Bernstein’s keyboard style has comprehensive realization from Andrew Cooperstock.

Professor of Piano Andrew Cooperstock—at the University of Colorado Boulder—celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s centenary (1918-2018), with performances that feature the composer’s complete solo piano works. A special bonus lies in the witty and charming Bridal Suite for piano duet, composed in 1960 but published in 1989. In addition to the better known Anniversaries, Sonata for the Piano, and Touches, Andrew Cooperstock includes Leonard Bernstein’s very first published work, the highly effective transcription of Aaron Copland’s orchestral tone poem El Salón México, together with the Four Sabras, Non troppo presto, and Music for the Dance, No. II. This new recording features music from the composer’s teenage years through his late composition for the 1980 Van Cliburn Competition, Touches. Cooperstock includes music Bernstein dedicated to friends and distinguished colleagues including Lukas Foss, Sergei Koussevitzky, William Schuman, William Kapell, and Stephen Sondheim.

A fine pianist, Leonard Bernstein cultivated a distinctive style of keyboard writing, inspired in the main by Copland’s austere and learned Piano Variations of 1930. Curiously, Bernstein’s keyboard oeuvre might invoke Robert Schumann as their ancestor: many of the works are suites of miniatures, each with musical significance for individual personalities and friends of the composer. Helen Coates, for instance, a gifted teacher and lifelong friend, receives two Anniversaries. The Seven Anniversaries (1942-43) assume a tender, even dance-like character; the one for Paul Bowles captures that many-faceted individual’s quirky disposition. Both Nathalie and Serge Koussevitzky receive plaintive homage, although the latter has a pungency not far from Ligeti or Bartok.

Four Anniversaries appear in 1948, the first of which celebrates Felicia Montealegre (1922-1978), the Chilean stage actress who became Bernstein’s wife. For David Diamond celebrates the great American polyphonist whom this reviewer met at Juilliard. The Helen Coates has a spunky element not far from West Side Story sensibilities. Of the Five Anniversaries (1949-51), that For Lukas Foss has relevance for me: there lay a Foss score on Lenny’s desk when I visited with him at the Dakota. “Lukas,” quipped Bernstein, “is the hardest-working, most self-destructive man I know.” Lenny could have been talking about himself. For Elizabeth B. Ehrman proves jazzy and brief.

In her note to the Thirteen Anniversaries (1964-88), Shirley Gabis Rhodes Perle credits pianist Anton Kuerti for the first two. The second of these musical kernels is dedicated to William Kapell, a mere, jabbing twenty-five seconds. The third celebrates collaborator Stephen Sondheim, rather bluesy. Craig Urquart contributes his own 2016 note to the 1986 Anniversary he received.  In Memoriam: Goddard Lieberson recalls the energetic producer at CBS Records. A ticklish stride piece, For Jessica Fleischmann has a ringing, clarion sonority. Something of Debussy’s angular harmony pervades In Memoriam: Constance Hope.

Touches (1980) has a curiously post-Tristan sensibility, a combination of Second Viennese School polyphony, Copland, and Jazz. The piano revels in its percussive effects, which occasionally soften into stinging bells. Bernstein’s Sonata for the Piano (1938; pub. 1979), quirky and impulsive, is the product of Bernstein’s student days at Curtis, under the tutelage of Heinrich Gebhard. Bernstein played the piece at a Boston reception for Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1937, and he received encouragement. The middle movement becomes rather large and exclamatory, in the manner of Mussorgsky. An obligatory fugal section leads to the harshly dissonant final pages, rife with forearm clusters which dissolve to leave a simple, plainchant kind of sensibility.

Non Troppo Presto (1937; pub. 2010) and Music for the Dance No. II (1938; pub. 2010) are early works, sounding a bit like Abram Chasins’ Chinese pieces, angular, often in debt to Debussy and Prokofiev. The 1950s Four Sabras results from Bernstein’s association with the Israel Philharmonic, utilizing motifs from Candide to celebrate those born in the newly-formed Jewish state. In four, short, witty character sketches, they ask Cooperstock to suggest what he might add to Samuel Goldenberg and friend in Mussorgsky. The last of the set, Dina, The Tomboy, has a Schumann quality that rings true.

The largest, most audacious piece comes from Copland, by way of the orchestral work El Salon Mexico (1936; pub. 1941), which Bernstein effectively transcribes for piano. The drunken rhythms weave and sashay and then explode into rhythmic gems. Coooperstock reveals real power in his pedal effects, although for me nothing beats Guido Cantelli’s performance from NYC. The Bridal Suite (1960; pub. 1989) for one piano and two players – both Cooperstock – pays homage to Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green, especially when marked “F#yllis.” Eminently “theatrical,” the ten short pieces embrace the couple, Chaplin, the movie Bell, Book, and Candle, and traditional wedding dances: First Waltz, Cha-cha-cha, and Hora. The clever Prelude comes directly from C Major Bach WTC, but adds something Broadway and 47th Street. Cooperstock adds Three (Obligatory) Encores, each of less than one minute’s duration, the last a Magyar tune which, like the Hora, evokes an authentic ethnicity in the manner of Bartok.

—Gary Lemco

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