Disc Man

Leonard Bernstein: A White-House Cantata London Sym- phony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon); Bernstein conducts Bernstein: Serenade, Songfest (Deutsche Grammophon) As if in response to election-year issues, Deutsche Grammophon has issued two recordings that allow the voice of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918- 1990), one of America's most outspoken advocates for minority rights, to ring out with renewed vitality. It was Lenny who performed a celebratory concert when the Berlin Wall fell, Lenny who persisted in reintroducing the music of fellow Jew Gustav Mahler to German orchestras, and Lenny the homosexual who made sure the world knew who he was—loud and clear. Now we can assess his advocacy in several of his most political compositions. Newly recorded is A White House Cantata. Drawn from Bernstein's lengthy 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. collaboration with Alan Jay Lerner, this sometimes wickedly funny but musically uneven work exposes sexism and racism in various presidencies. More consistent is Bernstein Conducts Bernstein, which pairs his gorgeous Serenade for violin, string orchestra, harp, and percussion (After Plato's Symposium)—a paean to love in all its forms—with the remarkable Songfest, a striking setting of 13 American poems for six singers and orchestra. Two highlights include Walt Whitman's homoerotic "To What You Said" and a groundbreaking antiracism duet combining Langston Hughes' "I, Too, Sing America" with June Jordan's "Okay, 'Negroes.'" This reissue CD offers stunningly beautiful music. In these times of political uncertainty, Lenny's gifts seem greater than ever.

JASON SERINUS

 
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