New Releases: Bernstein's West Side Story and Igor Kamenz's Scarlatti

Sunday, August 24, 2014

FREE Facebook Download: Cheyenne Jackson Sings "Maria" From West Side Story*

Monday, Aug. 25 would have been the 96th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, a composer whose star remains bright. A bronze sculpture of him was unveiled at Tanglewood last month. A revival of On The Town, his 1944 collaboration with Betty Comden and Adoph Green, is slated to begin previews on Sept. 20 on Broadway. And there's a new recording of West Side Story, one of two featured albums this week along pianist Igor Kamenz's collection of Scarlatti sonatas.

West Side Story
Alexandra Silber, Cheyenne Jackson and others
San Francisco Symphony
, Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
SFS Media
Available at or at

Any new recording of West Side Story faces stiff competition from the iconic 1957 original Broadway cast version (not so much from the 1984 “operatic version,” which starred Kiri te Kanawa, José Carreras and Marilyn Horne and drew cool reviews). But a 2-CD set – drawn from live performances in 2013 by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – brings much to the table. The inspired cast includes Alexandra Silber as Maria, "30 Rock" star Cheyenne Jackson as Tony and Jessica Vosk as Anita. Songs like “Something’s Coming” and “Tonight” have a particular sparkle but what stands out most is the vitality of the orchestra playing, which manages to underscore the considerable subtleties of Bernstein’s score. Listen, for instance, to the way they deftly accent the syncopations in “Mambo" or allow the counterpoint to speak in "Cool," qualities that will make your ears perk up as you listen over again.

Igor Kamenz
Igor Kamenz Plays Scarlatti
Available for Pre-Order at

The career of Russian-born, Germany-based pianist Igor Kamenz gives meaning to the phrase slow burn. Born in 1968, he was giving recitals and conducting orchestras in his native Siberia by the age of seven. In the 1980s and 90s he entered numerous international competitions but he never quite broke through. Despite setbacks, he kept his head above water. This past week, Kamenz made his New York debut playing Beethoven and Liszt in recitals at the Mostly Mozart Festival. September 30, Naïve label will release his recordings of 18 of Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas played on piano. The cover photo notwithstanding, the sonatas on this album (recorded at SUNY Purchase) are not sleepy affairs, mostly allegros with lots of flourishes and brilliant dance rhythms. Kamenz plays with a full tone, lively phrasing and a nicely varied touch.

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Comments [12]

This latest recording with the new cast exudes spontaneity and youthful emotions befitting the ageless story of broken dream and adolescent charm. I defintely love it much more than the operatic version of 1985 (Te Kanawa, Carreras and Troyanos), which sounded awkward and stiff. I tend to concur with the critics' comments then as miscast singers. The voices in this new recording are fresh and with beautiful tone, all of them, and espcially Julia Bullock, who sang "Somewhere." The Braodway revival version a few years back was also a good one.

Aug. 30 2014 07:24 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I don't like it either.

Aug. 29 2014 10:19 AM

Hate the gray box. DD~~

Aug. 29 2014 12:50 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Yes Les, he was a wonderful teacher. He made classical music interesting. I was very young at that time and found those telecasts to be a great help in understanding the various forms that classical music took.
Hi Carol.

Aug. 27 2014 10:01 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Yes, I also include Chichester Psalms among the few Bernstein works that I like. (I just wasn't sure how to spell it!)

Aug. 27 2014 10:00 AM
Howard from Florida

I'd like to praise Bernstein's opera conducting. "Medea" (1953) and "La Sonnambula" (1955) with Maria Callas at La Scala; "Fidelio" at the Vienna State Opera (70's I think) with Gundala Janowitz in which he connected the end of "Namenlose freude" with the "Leonore Overture No. 3" without the G chord that begins the overture", "Falstaff" with Fischer-dieskau" also at the Vienna State Opera and at the Met, "Carmen" with Marilyn Horne at the Met, and "Cavalleria rusticana" with Bumbry and Corelli (if memory serves) which for me is a lesser achievement for me since the slow tempos throughout paralled the composer's recording with Gigli and Bruna-Rasa, (which for me is that document's only detriment).

Aug. 27 2014 09:14 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I'm dismayed that seemingly the one work Leonard Bernstein composed that has univeral approbation is "West Side Story". This, apparently, is his "Rachmaninoff's Prelude in c sharp minor". I daresay I'm the one music lover on the planet who cannot abide "West Side Story" at all, but loves to the point of obsession "Fancy Free", "On the Town", "Facsimile" (written for Jerome Robbins and is as personal and emotional a statement as a diary), his first two symphonies "Jeremiah" and "Age of Anxiety", the anti-suburban satire "Trouble in Tahiti", "Candide" (in which his ability and sympathy to write in any style is on display), "Slava!" in praise of Mstislav Rostropovich's assumption of the conductorship of the National Symphony, "Songfest" and "Mass". I always enjoy his conducting of the "moderns" (early to mid-twentieth century) and the Russians the best, the one exception being his Mahler interpretations. I think his status as a teacher is unequalled outside the confines of the Harvard Music School, witness "The Unanswered Question", the six talks he gave at Harvard in 1973 as the Norton Professor of Poetry, to say nothing of the more popular "Young Peoples' Concerts" and lectures on "Omnibus".

Aug. 27 2014 08:58 AM

Addendum: I was also fortunate enough to sing 'Tony' in "WSS" in a concert version (many moons ago) with the Alabama Symphony. DD~~

Aug. 26 2014 10:15 PM

@ Carol, I'm a pretty big fan of 'Chichester Psalms' -- but then, I'm prejudiced as I sang the countertenor solos in several performances. Some of the music from 'Chichester' was also used in a score for a Bernstein "Peter Pan." DD~~

Aug. 26 2014 10:10 PM
Camille from Nassau

So sorry to say that in my humble opinion, the one track I heard of the SF Symphony recording of WEST SIDE STORY is the worst I have ever heard. I heard AMERICA tonight and could not believe that the grit and bite of Manhattan were totally nonexistent in this recording. It sounded more like a chorus of maidens from Gilbert and Sullivan. Surprising because I usually like Michael Tilson Thomas's work very much.

Aug. 26 2014 09:20 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Hi Concetta,
I have to admit that I still have some affection for "Dear Lenny" because it was through watching a PBS broadcast of him conducting the NY Philharmonic in a performance of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony that I began my love for classical music.
However, I do think that he could get a bit over dramatic in his conducting, so that now I would rather just listen and not watch!
As for his music, I never cared much for most of it except for West Side Story, Candide, and maybe a very few other works.

Aug. 26 2014 11:48 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

QXR is so misty eyed about Dear Lenny. He was not a great conductor, great showman. Wonderful educator with his series on classical music which I watched and enjoyed. NOT A GREAT CONDUCTOR. So there.

Aug. 25 2014 01:35 PM

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The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.