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Krystian Zimerman's 'Age of Anxiety' makes for a profoundly moving birthday gift to Leonard Bernstein / Classical Music Sentinel

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It's literally been many, many years since I've last listened to the Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990). So much so that I had forgotten how starkly and poignantly plaintive the Prologue sounds, and how it so effectively evokes the sense of desolate, shallow emptiness the poem by W.H. Auden, on which the symphony is based, attempts to convey through its main characters. And when the piano part steps in at the Variation I, Krystian Zimerman's deeply expressive playing really throws into relief the profound feelings of anxiety and irresolution that permeate this work. All in all there are 14 variations on the main idea, ranging in tone from deep contemplation to shameless exhilaration in which Simon Rattle and Zimerman deftly capture the frenzied excess of it all. And Zimerman's solo piano in the sixth variation reiterates the prologue's sense of singularity by emphasizing its feeling of isolation. And if the dark tone of the prologue didn't convey in you a feeling of deep sadness, the long sequence of descending piano notes set against bleak orchestral textures in the seventh variation certainly will. Traces of Roy Harris permeate the dramatic Variation 8 in which again the highly nuanced phrasing by Zimerman sets the tone.

If Bernstein were still alive today, this would have made for an amazing tribute and profoundly moving birthday gift. As a side note, and I know this is all very suggestive, I think the cover image, which recalls the Andy Warhol, superficial pop-art days of the 1960s is brilliantly fitting.

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