Apparently, the Bernstein Century aims to issue every scrap Bernstein recorded for Columbia. Although this will prove invaluable for archivists and fanatics (myself included), Bernstein's wide range of activity produced some pretty marginal stuff. The Second Hurricane was written in 1936 for a high school performance (directed by Orson Welles!) but the painfully trite libretto seems more like one of those grade-school pageants that charm doting parents while their little Jimmy or Suzie is up on the stage, but otherwise is pretty grim. Copland's music, though, is full of fine, unpretentious touches. The dozen musical numbers begin each of the CD tracks, so you can skip most of the stilted dramatic interludes; otherwise, the overall effect is pretty doleful. In the Beginning is a colorful but reverent a cappella setting of scripture, written for the Robert Shaw Chorale in 1947.
A mono recording, one that hasn't been released until now, is that of Copland's In the Beginning. This is an attractive a cappella work with texts based on the book of Genesis, and it's hard to say why the present recording sat in the can so long. Perhaps it's because the sound is a little muddy, even by 1953 standards. I can't hear any gross deficiencies in the performance, and Lipton is a good singer with clear diction. Furthermore, this is a rare opportunity to hear Bernstein in the role of a choral conductor. The Second Hurricane dates from the Depression era; its first director was Orson Welles. It's a school opera, and in that way it reminds me of Britten's Let's Make an Opera! and Noye's Fludde. It's mostly on that level, musically speaking. The story concerns six high school heroes, their worried parents, and their friends. The heroes have been sent to a hurricane-stricken area to provide disaster relief. (When was FEMA founded?) On the way, their plane develops difficulties, and they are stranded on a hill while the pilot flies off in search of mechanical help. Frustrated and scared, they begin to quarrel, and it's only the threat of a second hurricane that pulls them together. Eventually, they are rescued, and there is the requisite happy ending. Bernstein is the avuncular narrator, and he keeps the action flowing. (Together, the two acts last barely more than 45 minutes.) The young people of the High School of Music and Art carry out their solo and ensemble duties with maturity. There are no texts, but you'll be able to understand the words anyway. The 1960-vintage sound is excellent.