This recording follows on a successful reading by the same forces of Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish") of 1963. You can see why they started with the later work first, although the 1965 revision of the Symphony No. 2 ("The Age of Anxiety") actually postdates the earlier-numbered work. All three works share a common theme, namely the crisis of faith, but the oratorio-like "Kaddish" Symphony has a dramatic quality that makes its concerns explicitly. Here, Bernstein employed musical symbolism that takes a little bit of immersion (or study of the fine booklet notes by Frank K. DeWald) to grasp. The Symphony No. 2 was inspired by a lengthy W.H. Auden poem of the same name, consisting of pieces of a conversation among a group of New Yorkers in a bar. Bernstein does not represent it blow by blow, but tries to replicate the structure, using two sets of variations, a tone row (although not 12-tone structure), and diversions into jazz and pop along the way. It works once you get into it, and conductor Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are greatly aided by the presence of French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The Symphony No. 1, which Bernstein began to think about in 1939, when he was 21, is similarly hard to pin down: it uses Jewish melodic material only obliquely (the booklet quotes a specialist with the interesting claim that Bernstein used more of it than he thought he did), but it is suffused throughout with the spirit of the Lamentations that provide the final movement's text. These are sympathetic performances, worth the time of those interested in the work of one of the 20th century's still underrated composers (at least in the classical sphere).
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony No. 1 'Jeremiah'|
|Symphony No. 2 'The Age of Anxiety'|