Leonard BERNSTEIN: The Complete Solo Piano Works—Leann Osterkamp, piano—Steinway & Sons 

by | Oct 2, 2017 | Classical CD Reviews

The Complete Solo Piano Works of LEONARD BERNSTEIN: Seven Anniversaries—Five Anniversaries—Sonata for Piano—Four Anniversaries—Thirteen Anniversaries—Bridal Suite—and many others, previously unrecorded and unpublished—Leann Osterkamp, piano—Steinway & Sons 30076, 47:20, 45:21, ****: 

The intimacy and variety of Bernstein’s solo piano works burst forth passionately.

When the Bernstein household wheeled in a sad looking, brown upright piano that Aunt Clara wanted to get rid of, the ten-year old Leonard recalled, “And I remember touching it….and that was it. That was my contact with life, with God. From then on….I had found my universe, my place where I felt safe. This thing suddenly made me feel supreme….”  Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), as author, teacher, composer, writer, pianist and conductor best personified the democratization and popularity of classical music in America in the early and mid-twentieth century.

This two disc set of miniatures represents all his works for solo piano, including works previously unpublished. Many are miniatures written as tributes, gifts, and memorials to friends, family, and colleagues that were composed across the range of his career. For Bernstein, the solo piano often is an expression of affection for people he loved. Sometimes these small and short pieces of music speak volumes about a musical personality that was larger than life.

Pianist Leann Osterkamp was a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts through the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama and teaches at the Juilliard School. She is a performer, scholar and educator who is an acknowledged expert on the music of Leonard Bernstein. She has maintained the composer’s desire to group the Anniversaries into sets of Seven, Five, Thirteen and Four. Osterkamp provides valuable contextual insight on the subject that each of these 34 miniatures reference.

Non Troppo Presto is a joyous romp that is Lennie at his most exuberant. His only Sonata for Piano of 1938 is an exercise in modern experimentation for the young composer—powerful, dissonant and contemplative. The touching melody of In Memoriam Nathalie Koussevitzky became a movement of his Jeremiah Symphony. For Aaron Copland expresses the deep bond between the two composers in 1:26. For Sergei Koussevitzky is deeply moving.

Five Anniversaries (1949-51) contains material used for his Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium” and will be recognizable to those who know this exuberant early work. The dedication to Touches reads, “To my first love, the piano.” It’s the only theme and variations he wrote for piano. It was commissioned for the Van Cliburn piano competition and is appropriately virtuosic and diverse in its moods.

In Memoriam Helen Coates (his early piano teacher and longtime private secretary) is a moving melody later used in Bernstein’s Mass. In Memoriam Goddard Lieberson (President of Columbia Records who made the cast recording of West Side Story) is a jaunty work of just over a minute. In Memoriam William Kapell is a 28 second virtuosic romp. For Felicia Montealegre is a warm remembrance of the party that Claudio Arrau gave in 1946 where Bernstein met his future wife.

This is the first of many recordings and reissues that will celebrate the 2018 centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The emotions and intimacy expressed in these short pieces may be dwarfed by the significance of Bernstein’s larger works, but they do represent the variety of the emotional connections he made with everyone touched. Leann Osterkamp communicates these miniatures with verve, warmth and spirit that is quintessential Bernstein. Steinway provides its usual authentic piano sound.

—Robert Moon

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