Opus Two

Bernstein: Violin Sonata; Piano Trio

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The category "chamber music of Leonard Bernstein" is sparsely populated, and the performers here have to struggle to fill it out. Aside from some pieces for brass ensemble, Bernstein wrote chamber music only at the very beginning of his career, and this release presents all three works involved. The Sonata for clarinet and piano, here arranged for violin, became, in 1941, Bernstein's first published work; the Sonata for violin and piano and Trio for violin, cello, and piano were composed by Bernstein while he was still a student at Harvard, in the case of the violin sonata for a friend, Raphael Hillyer, who went on to co-found the Juilliard Quartet. From later in Bernstein's career come various songs and instrumental pieces from musicals, all attractive enough, but none giving much insight into how he thought about chamber music. The good news is that the early pieces are a treat for Bernstein fans, who are unlikely to have heard them, or at least heard them all. They're basically lighthearted, and they're rooted in the neo-classic spirit of the day, but they're full of big intra-movement contrasts that give hints of the ambitious scope of Bernstein's instrumental music to come (not so much of the great musical theater melodist). The two "house songs" -- songs about houses from the musicals Peter Pan (1950) and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) -- are done with a nice straightforwardness by soprano Marin Mazzie, and they'd make excellent (and largely unfamiliar) recital items for student singers. More an intriguing collection of Bernstein miscellanea than a thematically connected program, this is recommended for Bernstein lovers.

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