American conductor Marin Alsop has established a reputation as a Leonard Bernstein specialist, and this release, nicely timed for the centenary of Bernstein's birth in 2018, is the seventh in a series on the Naxos label. Various orchestras have been involved, but the marriage of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra to Bernstein's pieces with Latin-inflected rhythms is an especially happy one in the opening Mambo from West Side Story and the Times Square ballet from On the Town; sample either one and you may find yourself hooked. The rest is a mixed bag of pieces that never totally succeeded but still tell you something about Bernstein's creative personality. There is music from Bernstein's failed musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which some believe is merely in need of an imaginative staging for a successful revival; certainly the somewhat humorous inflection of the composer's basic idiom will maintain your interest. Slava! A Political Overture, part of a concert celebrating Mstislav Rostropovich, was taken from tunes for the same musical and is cut from similar cloth. The CBS Music of 1978 is rarely played; it was written for an anniversary show for the American broadcast network and has been mostly reconstructed or fleshed out by arrangers here. Perhaps most interesting is the Bernstein Birthday Banquet of 1988, not by Bernstein but rather a kind of musical Festschrift by other composers, even including Toru Takemitsu, that shows just how deep Bernstein's influence ran, even at a time when his critical reputation was arguably at a low point. This release is probably of most interest to Bernstein fans; it mostly consists of pieces that may fairly be called obscure. Yet anyone will find things to enjoy here.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim