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LEONARD BERNSTEIN - Thirteen Anniversaries - Piano Works - Alexandre Dossin (Piano) - 636943975626 - Released: March 2015 - Naxos 8.559756

Sonata for the Piano (1938)
Seven Anniversaries (1943)
Thirteen Anniversaries (1988)
Music for the Dance No. II (1938)
Non Troppo Presto (1937)

We've all been so impressed by Leonard Bernstein's stance as one of the prime conductors and a fierce 20th century music advocate, that we have pretty well relegated to our deeper memory banks the fact that he was also a composer of the first order (the Symphonies, Mass, West Side Story, and one of my personal favorites, Prelude Fugue and Riffs). And despite the fact that he personally seemed to favor the big symphonic works by large scale composers like Shostakovich, Mahler, William Schuman, Tchaikovsky, Copland, etc ... he managed to write simple miniatures for piano solo that project a life's work worth of imagery. The sets of Anniversaries included on this new Naxos recording are a case in point. Short and intimate, yet full of descriptive expression and meaningful homage to friends and colleagues of the composer. Written for special anniversaries, some are light and song-like, as if composed for a stage musical, while others are emotionally profound, like the In Memoriam: Helen Coates, based on one segment of his Mass. Had we known these people ourselves I'm sure would have helped enhance each piece's impact, but it is noted clearly enough as to who each dedicatee is and the included booklet notes very well explain as to how each anniversary gift came about. The Piano Sonata on the other hand, is a darker and more complex piano work that reveals its American roots with heavy syncopated rhythms throughout the first movement, and a slightly bluesy and lyrical second movement that brings to mind the beautiful slow movement of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, which Bernstein himself has conducted from the piano.

Brazilian pianist Alexandre Dossin does full justice to the diverging aspects of Bernstein's output for solo piano, with a muscular reading of the Sonata, and an expressively melodic approach to the sets of Anniversaries. He even includes world première recordings of the Music for the Dance No. II and Non Troppo Presto, both of which showcase the composer's more cerebral side. This alone should be enough to entice Bernstein collectors to seek out this recording.

Leonard Bernstein certainly was one of the titans of the musical landscape of the 20th century, as well as a puzzling human being, and behind every one of these piano miniatures lies a small piece of the puzzle.

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2015