The American Album
Works by Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, and Lukas Foss
Itzhak Perlman, violin, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, conductor, EMI Classics 5 55360 2 (one CD) .
One of the world’s best violinists plays some of America’s best—and most likable—music for violin and orchestra. The main attraction is Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, a lush, tuneful, full-blown post-Romantic work written between 1939 and 1941, richly lyrical in the first two of its three movements and fleetly virtuosic in the last. It gets a glowing performance that reveals it as a masterpiece by a composer who was always far less interested in innovation or novelty than in direct heartfelt expression. Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade ( after Plato’s “Symposium” ), which he wrote for Isaac Stern in the early 1950s, is typically playful, both intellectually and musically—a portrait in sound of an evening of talk among Socrates and his friends about the nature of love. “If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration,” Bernstein wrote, “I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner party.” Lukas Foss’s amiable Three American Pieces , from 1944, fills out this winning sampling of home-grown violin showpieces.