The stunning drama of Leonard Bernstein's music comes to full light under his protege Marin Alsop's direction in superlative interpretations of three of his lesser known works. The first, "Serenade (after Plato's "Symposium") for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion", is an unequivocal masterwork composed in 1954 and perhaps Bernstein's best classical work. In five movements over thirty-one minutes, the music purportedly depicts a dialogue between Socrates and his followers concerning the nature of love in all its dimensions - comic, ethereal, purely scientific, rapturous and all-powerful. Conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Alsop captures all these feelings with flair and precision, in particular, the pastoral quality of the first and fourth movements, "Aristophanes (Allegretto)" and "Agathon (Adagio)" and the majesty he builds with furious texture on the last movement, "Socrates- Alcibiades (Molto tenuto: Allegro molto vivace)". The dexterous violin soloist, Phillippe Quint, acts as the musical speaker of the unspoken prose, and he skillfully maneuvers through the challenging work with sinuous power and unobtrusive subtlety.
The 1946 centerpiece, "Facsimile (Choreographic Essay for Orchestra)", overcomes its pretentious title by fluently expressing the melodrama around the ennui felt by post-WWII men and women looking for spiritual fulfillment. Echoes of the far more famous "Fancy Free" ballet can be heard throughout this eighteen-minute work, especially in the unexpected piano solo in the middle portion. The net effect is lovely though a touch erratic in the diverse rhythms presented in the piece. Bernstein wrote the last piece, "Divertimento", late in his career in 1980, and it is a vivid reminder of his virtuosity even though the eight brief movements move by almost too quickly with each displaying individual rhythmic patterns that seem to sum up all the styles he has developed over his career. You can also hear his influences throughout, for example, Mahler in the third movement and Copland in the fifth. It ends humorously with a flourish of Sousa-style bandstand music. Clearly Bernstein's compositional output has been wildly variable with his most famous works like "On the Town" and "West Side Story" receiving the most attention (and consequently the most recordings), but I'm happy Naxos has made these three works available to a new generation of listeners at their typical bargain price.