Bernstein's piano output reflects the various strands of his multifaceted personality, in works as different as Touches (1981) – influenced by Aaron Copland’s thorny Piano Variations – and , at the other end of the scale, his often tender, sentimental Anniversaries, miniatures written in commemoration of important people in his life. Taken together his piano works form a musical diary tracing the breadth of his experiences and ideas. Smaller piano pieces often preview bigger things to come. Four of his Five Anniversaries (1949-51) appear as themes in his violin concerto, the Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium.”
The personal commemorations he created were not portraits so much as self-portrayals, revealing different aspects of his own multi-faceted personality. To play these works well requires an understanding of the various elements that made up the Bernstein persona. The Italian pianist Michele Tozzetti brings out the heartfelt tenderness of most of these tributes, the Jewish elements and the dance rhythms.
In the Anniversary dedicated to Aaron Copland (in Seven Anniversaries, 1943), Tozzetti captures the sound and spirit of the man Bernstein called ‘my first friend in New York, my master, my idol, my sage, my shrink, my guide, my counselor, my elder brother, [and] my beloved friend.’ The pianist reveals a delicate sense of sonority along with fine dynamic control in For Paul Bowles,
and brings an idiomatic edginess to For Sergei Koussevitzky. He also injects
youthful vigour into Bernstein’s Sonata (1937), a probing work rich in counterpoint, written when the the composer was still a student.
Also on this recording are Non Troppo Presto, a manuscript discovered in the Leonard Bernstein archive at the Library of Congress; and Touches: Chorale, Eight Variations and Coda, commissioned by the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in 1981. Its bluesy chorale is identical to Virgo Blues, written for his daughter, Jamie on her twenty-sixth birthday in 1978. Bernstein dedicated this work ‘to my first love, the keyboard’. In Michele Tozzetti’s hands, that love is beautifully realized.
Leonard Bernstein was without doubt one of the most important musical figures of 20th century America: active as pianist, composer, conductor, teacher and media star, he was in short a musical icon. 2018 saw the centenary of his birth, which generated a renewed interest in this towering genius.
Bernstein’s compositions are as multi-faceted as the man himself: his “Touches” is influenced by the thorny and fiercely dissonant sounds of Copland’s variations while the “Anniversaries” are touching and sometimes even sentimental commemorations of important people in his life.
Bernstein’s complete piano works are played on this new recording by the young Italian pianist Michele Tozzetti, who plays on a superb Fazioli grand piano F278.
The booklet contains liner notes written by the noted author Stuart Isacoff.