Review By Penguin Guide,January 2009
Dybbuck, written to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the State of Israel, is one of Bernstein’s darkest scores. Over 45 minutes in length, it tells the creepy story of a sinister ghost, with the battle between good and evil represented respectively (and very aptly) by tonality and atonality. It is well coupled with another ballet written for Jerome Robbins 30 years earlier, including Abby Burke, the jazz-influenced vocalist. It is a work involving three sailors and anticipates the musical On the Town and is one of Bernstein’s most colourful scores with its sharp syncopations well realized here.
Review By David Hurwitz,ClassicsToday.com,December 2006
Review By John Pitcher,Nashville Scene,December 2006
Review By Lawson Tattie,The Dallas Morning News,December 2006
Review By Fox,American Record Guide,April 2007
Yet another superb issue from Naxos. I compared both to Bernstein's own recordings. These are so close in interpretation, orchestral excellence, and sonics, that, in a blind test, I don't think that even seasoned listeners could tell the difference. The New York Philharmonic had a tiny bit more orchestral brilliance, but Nashville is superb. Even the two singers in Dybbuk sound alike in both recordings-and impassioned. Naxos proudly indicates that both ballets are offered here complete. I think that is also true in the Bernstein recordings with one important difference: the Naxos Fancy Free includes the rarely heard blues number, 'Big Stuff, sung here by Abby Burke but originally by Billie Holiday. (In the ballet, it is the sound of a jukebox playing the song
The 1944 Fancy Free was Bernstein's first big public success as a composer, and it has delighted listeners ever since with its jazzy, yet sophisticated insolence, high spirits, and humor. It was the inspiration for Broadway's On the Town -not musically (there is no music from Fancy Free in On the Town), but the plot (three sailors on a spree in New York).
Dybbuk is a world apart from Fancy Free. It is a serious work incorporating Jewish elements. Musically, it is sparse in melody, but intense in expression, brilliantly orchestrated and rhythmically rich. There is no question that it is thorny, especially if heard in tandem with the breezy Fancy Free. The "plot" is based on the drama by Shlomo Ansky about a spirit that seeks to enter the body of a living person. Plot details are beyond the scope of this review, but inasmuch as much of the music is sung by a baritone and a bass, it is unfortunate that the text is not included in the set. Dybbuk is a fascinating work, a far cry from the Bernstein we know and love. I found it rewarding, but only after a number of hearings. If you are interested in these two works, I recommend this, especially at its attractive price. more....
Review By Herbert Culot,MusicWeb International,March 2007
Bernstein collaborated with Jerome Robbins on four occasions. It all started with Fancy Free (1944), went on with Facsimile (1945) and West Side Story (1957) and ended with Dybbuk (1974). These collaborations were differently received by critics and audiences. Fancy Free and West Side Story were immediate, resounding successes; Facsimile and Dybbuk got somewhat lukewarm receptions. The paradox is that in strictly musical terms both the choreographic essay Facsimile and Dybbuk are by far the finest; but the music for – or because of – all its seriousness obviously lacks the popular appeal that makes Fancy Free and West Side Story so successful. These scores belong to the Bernstein works that clearly demonstrate what Bernstein could achieve when he kept his invention and
Having Fancy Free and Dybbuk side by side makes it all perfectly clear. The music of Fancy Free is a fine example of Bernstein at his most extrovert, uninhibited; and displays the typical Bernstein mix of jazz, blues, Neo-classical Stravinsky and echoes of Copland - the latter is clearly to be heard in the penultimate section Danzón. The music is straightforward, colourful, lively, full of contrast, joyfully eclectic and superbly crafted. I have known this work for many years, and listening to it again sets me thinking that the whole score might well be a theme and variations on the opening number Big Stuff (“in juke-box style”). However, do not take my word for it; I may be wrong after all. There is not much to choose between this performance and that of Leonard Slatkin (EMI CDD 7 63905 2), in which Big Stuff really sounds as being played by an old worn-out juke-box, and the last recording made by the composer many years ago (DG), in which Bernstein sings and plays Big Stuff with his inimitable chain-smoker voice. The Nashville orchestra play with energy and obvious enjoyment, relishing the score’s many happy touches.
As already mentioned earlier in this review, Dybbuk, written to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the state of Israel, is a rather more serious affair drawing on Shlomo Ansky’s eponymous drama. The insert notes go into some detail about the action, and I will not repeat them here. Suffice to say that the subject of Dybbuk is about the universal and eternal struggle between good and evil, brightness and darkness, symbolised by the clash between diatonic and twelve-tone music. This is not particularly new in Bernstein’s output, since the diatonic-chromatic dichotomy is also present in much of the music of his Third Symphony Kaddish; but there is nothing here that may compare with the overtly ‘Coplandesque’ big tune heard in the Third Symphony. The most remarkable thing in Dybbuk is the extraordinary stylistic coherence displayed throughout. This is a substantial score and has been hailed by some as Bernstein’s finest achievement. The utter seriousness and austerity of much of the music are perfectly attuned to the no-nonsense subject of the ballet. There are many moments of real and great inspiration, and none of the ramshackle eclecticism that sometimes mars some of Bernstein’s serious, deeply-felt works. Dybbuk is undoubtedly an imposing achievement, but one that will never become popular, which makes as fine a performance as the one under review the more welcome. I do not doubt that the real Bernstein is here, in this serious, austere and complex work.
These performances are very fine indeed, beautifully played and obviously committed as well as nicely recorded. One slight grumble, however, concerning the all-too-clean rendering of Big Stuff at the beginning of Fancy Free. Well, yes, I know, juke-boxes are no longer what they used to be in 1944, but this had been successfully realised in Slatkin’s EMI recording. Nevertheless, this is a welcome release putting both sides of “Janus Bernstein” into sharp contrast. Another attractive instalment in this Bernstein series from Naxos.
Review By Frank Behrens,Brattleboro Reformer,January 2007
Naxos, the supreme CD budget label, has added to its marvelous American Classics series two ballets by Leonard Bernstein.
"Fancy Free (and) Dybbuk (Complete Ballets)" (8.559280) is the title, and never were two ballets by the same composer so different.
The 1974 "Dybbuk" acts out the story of a spirit, thwarted in love, who returns to possess the body of another. While the program notes give a fairly detailed synopsis of the plot, I should report that the music fares quite well on its own, something not to be said about many 20th-century ballet scores. It is moody, atmospheric, and quite worthy of Shlomo Ansky's play of the same name on which it is based.