By Wayne Lee Gay, Texas Classical Review, April 26, 2019
Between the two Stravinsky works, pianist Shaham joined the orchestra for Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, “The Age of Anxiety.” Named for W.H. Auden’s long, soul-searching poem of 1947, the work — also arriving with its young composer on the brink of stardom — contains almost a surplus of musical riches, with an innovative structure and an array of musical forms ranging from tone rows to jazz.
The opening movement uses that most obvious and, for audiences, understandable structural device, a set of variations, but cloaks the variations in deliberate obscurity. The second movement storms, rages, and mourns, with a long side journey into a jazz district. The orchestration as a whole is quite Stravinskian, with equal attention from Bernstein to beautiful sounds and striking effects. The composer ten years later of West Side Story is much in evidence here, though one couldn’t help wishing he had been more concise in this earlier work.
As always with Bernstein, the listener can sense the composer’s ego and presence in the music; Bernstein himself admitted that the symphony’s piano part was “autobiographical.” Shaham maneuvered skillfully through the maze of styles and technical issues: one variation a simple, long scale for piano; others relentlessly repetitive; some sections almost Chopinesque.
Shaham and Robertson, with help from a flawless orchestral performance, created the sense of a musical event — if not a masterpiece, at least a brave work by an emerging musical genius. Flanked by Stravinsky, the Bernstein symphony as heard on Thursday proclaimed the richness of classical music’s sometimes maligned 20th Century.