Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


WGBH Radio WGBH Radio

The Complete Solo Piano Works Of Leonard Bernstein / Leann Osterkamp

Release Date: 09/15/2017
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30076
Composer:  Leonard Bernstein Performer:  Leann Osterkamp Number of Discs: 2

Leonard Bernstein¡¦s works for piano are all collected here, including works unpublished and previously unrecorded. Including many miniatures written as tributes, gifts and memorials to friends and family, these pieces range across Bernstein¡¦s composing career and reflect his unique musical style and character.

Album Credits:
Recorded October 17, December 5, 6 & 16, 2016 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producer: Kazumi Umeda
Engineer: Lauren Sturm
Editing: Kazumi Umeda
Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producer: Jon Feidner
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Cover Photo: George S. Zimbel/Getty
Read more Images
Piano Technician: Lauren Sturm
Piano: Steinway Model D #519920 (Hamburg)

When the Bernstein household wheeled in a sad looking, brown upright piano that Aunt Clara wanted to get rid of, the ten-year old Leonard recalled, “And I remember touching it….and that was it. That was my contact with life, with God. From then on…I had found my universe, my place where I felt safe. This thing suddenly made me feel supreme…” Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), as author, teacher, composer, writer, pianist and conductor best personified the democratization and popularity of classical music in America in the early and mid-twentieth century.

This two disc set of miniatures represents all his works for solo piano, including works previously unpublished. Many are miniatures written as tributes, gifts, and memorials to friends, family, and colleagues that were composed across the range of his career. For Bernstein, the solo piano often is an expression of affection for people he loved. Sometimes these small and short pieces of music speak volumes about a musical personality that was larger than life.

Pianist Leann Osterkamp was a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts through the U.S. Department of Education under President Obama and teaches at the Juilliard School. She is a performer, scholar and educator who is an acknowledged expert on the music of Leonard Bernstein. She has maintained the composer’s desire to group the Anniversaries into sets of Seven, Five, Thirteen and Four. Osterkamp provides valuable contextual insight on the subject that each of these 34 miniatures reference.

Non Troppo Presto is a joyous romp that is Lennie at his most exuberant. His only Sonata for Piano of 1938 is an exercise in modern experimentation for the young composer—powerful, dissonant and contemplative. The touching melody of In Memoriam Nathalie Koussevitzky became a movement of his Jeremiah Symphony. For Aaron Copland expresses the deep bond between the two composers in 1:26. For Sergei Koussevitzky is deeply moving.

Five Anniversaries (1949–51) contains material used for his Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium” and will be recognizable to those who know this exuberant early work. The dedication to Touches reads, “To my first love, the piano.” It’s the only theme and variations he wrote for piano. It was commissioned for the Van Cliburn piano competition and is appropriately virtuosic and diverse in its moods.

In Memoriam Helen Coates (his early piano teacher and longtime private secretary) is a moving melody later used in Bernstein’s Mass. In Memoriam Goddard Lieberson (President of Columbia Records who made the cast recording of West Side Story) is a jaunty work of just over a minute. In Memoriam William Kapell is a 28 second virtuosic romp. For Felicia Montealegre is a warm remembrance of the party that Claudio Arrau gave in 1946 where Bernstein met his future wife.

This is the first of many recordings and reissues that will celebrate the 2018 centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The emotions and intimacy expressed in these short pieces may be dwarfed by the significance of Bernstein’s larger works, but they do represent the variety of the emotional connections he made with everyone touched. Leann Osterkamp communicates these miniatures with verve, warmth and spirit that is quintessential Bernstein. Steinway provides its usual authentic piano sound.

-- Robert Moon, Audiophile Audition

The approaching centenary of Leonard Bernstein's birth has brought a spate of recordings of even his lesser-known music, a category that includes much of Bernstein's piano music. The listener has choices for the four sets of Anniversaries, short works written as portraits of and gifts for friends and family members of the composer, and other performances are available for the youthful Piano Sonata and the few other larger piano works in the Bernstein oeuvre. The selling point of this release by the young American pianist Leann Osterkamp is that the two-CD program truly does include all the known Bernstein piano works, including a few real obscurities. The booklet notes, by Osterkamp herself, are a bit involved, but they succeed in making a case beyond sheer completism for most of these. This is predominantly a question of connections between these mostly very short works and pieces by Bernstein in other genres. Sample the delightful Mixolydian Mixup, which, you will learn, was once used as part of the 1986 Concerto for Orchestra (Jubilee Games). For the Anniversaries themselves, there are more affectionate treatments available, but none that come with the detailed information about the recipient and his or her place in Bernstein's compositional and personal lives. You may wonder why three of the Anniversaries sets are presented intact while the group of 13 is broken up; this is because, as Osterkamp correctly notes, the 13 Anniversaries were assembled after the fact and can stand independently in ways the others do not. The result is a little portrait of Bernstein's world, not easily available in any other form, and recommended for those fascinated by this protean American composer.

-- AllMusic Guide

Ms Osterkamp trained at the Juilliard School and teaches there as she completes a DMA in piano performance at the Graduate Center, CUNY. As I observed in my review of Andrew Cooperstock’s recording for Bridge (N/D), much of Bernstein’s piano music consists of short occasional pieces for friends, published under the generic name “Anniversaries”. There’s an early piano sonata—written when he was 20!—a promising student work, to be sure. But aside from Touches, a set of variations commissioned for the sixth Van Cliburn competition, there are no major works for the instrument. This is a pity, as Bernstein was a superb pianist and composer; I guess he preferred larger forces like the orchestra for his more ambitious pieces and used the piano as a kind of workshop that fed into these more substantial compositions. For example, as Osteramp’s notes reveal, one of the Anniversaries, a memorial to Nathalie Koussevitzky, found a place in his first symphony.

Osterkamp’s collection is valuable because it includes both published and unpublished works, often arranged thematically rather than always following the order that they were published. Her collection is more complete than Cooperstock’s. Her liner notes include some historical information about the pieces and sometimes about the people who served as subjects or dedicatees. (Sometimes she doesn’t: Surely “Nicky Slonimsky”, for instance, is the famous composer and historical commentator Nicolas Slonimsky.)

Never mind. She certainly plays well, with affection and often with personal phrasing and other touches that reveal knowledge of the music and a willingness to engage with it rather than simply reproduce its notation too clinically. But so too does Cooperstock, though usually in different pieces. His account of Touches, for instance, is more expansive; on the other hand, Osterkamp captures the jazz element better, integrating it more effortlessly with Bernstein’s classical manner. Osterkamp’s performance of the memorial to Natalie Koussevitzky is slower and arguably more appropriately elegiac. I also prefer the recorded sound of her release, which is warm and rich; Cooperstock’s by contrast, is a little more diffuse, suggesting how it might sound in a concert performance—I appreciate the clarity of Osterkamp. If you love Bernstein’s music, you will want her set.

-- American Record Guide
Read less