Leonard Bernstein - Arias and Barcarolles; Songs & Duets

The Boston Globe - April 19, 1990
by Richard Dyer


In 1960, Leonard Bernstein performed at the White House, and President Eisenhower said, "You know, I liked that last piece you played; it's got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles." Now, 30 years later, Bernstein has written a piece called Arias and Barcarolles, and it has a theme. Not a musical theme, exactly, because the composer feels free to use anything that comes into his head whether it's klezmer or 12-tone or Virgil Thomson putting a spin on Gertrude Stein. The theme, instead, is political, the politics of love. We are in the world of Stephen Sondheim, who, in the circular way of things, learned about it from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. Arias and Barcarolles is a cycle of songs and duets; it is also, in its way, a half-hour opera. The first recording features the bewitching Broadway-flavored soprano of Judy Kaye and the handsome baritone of William Sharp. Both singers also appear in a group of familiar Bernstein songs from On the Town, Wonderful Town and Songfest, together with a rarity, a lovely song from Peter Pan that was never used. Michael Barrett and Steven Blier are skillful and idiomatic accompanists, and cellist Sara Sant 'Ambrogio makes a crucial contribution in "To What You Said," Bernstein's most wonderful melody, a setting of a Walt Whitman poem for Songfest. This is the first release of a new independent label produced by Koch International, a leading foreign record importer; in terms of interesting repertory, strong performances, and excellent recorded sound it promises much.

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