- Symphony No. 3 ("Kaddish"), for soprano, speakers, choruses & orchestra; also for voices & piano
- Chichester Psalms, for boy soloist, chorus & orchestra
Leonard Bernstein's Third Symphony, the "Kaddish" (1963), is probably the least-often performed of his major concert works, partly because of the forces it requires: Besides the soprano soloist, full chorus, and children's choir that augment the large orchestra, it also calls for a speaker who acts as a central dramatic protagonist. Carrying on a one-sided dialogue with God -- often becoming more of a violent argument -- the speaker guides us through a crisis of faith toward a guarded truce with the divine. (The traditional Hebrew Kaddish is a prayer of sanctification and an affirmation of faith, often recited in the context of mourning.) In its eclectic musical style, incorporating serial tone rows alongside beatific lullabies, and in its statement about religion, the "Kaddish" anticipates Bernstein's later Mass, but it's a stronger work, thanks to its greater concision and focus. It has been recorded several times, twice by Bernstein himself; like most other recordings, the present one couples it with the composer's other choral work in Hebrew, the Chichester Psalms. "Kaddish" may be as much a music drama as a symphony, but it's the endearing Psalms that draw overtly on Bernstein's sophisticated Broadway style, jaunty and lyrical by turns. Oddly, the main contemporary competition for Gerard Schwarz's new Liverpool recording of the Psalms is another Naxos release, featuring another American conductor (Marin Alsop) leading another British orchestra (the Bournemouth Symphony). And to be fair, if it's just the Chichester Psalms you're looking for, Alsop has the edge, thanks to a more polished chorus and a touch more verve in the baton. But Schwarz's "Kaddish" is extremely powerful -- and the speaker, Willard White, strikes the perfect notes of disillusionment, rage, and hope, without going too far over the top. It's certainly the best recording of the symphony since Bernstein's own and a welcome addition to Naxos' valuable American Classics series.