The music world is already observing the centennial of Leonard Bernstein, which arrives next August. A man of multifarious talents, Bernstein distinguished himself as a conductor, composer, mass-market educator, and all-around celebrity — and also as a pianist. In fact, his Touches, from 1981, bears the dedication “To my first true love, the keyboard.” Running about eight minutes, this appealing theme-and-variations set is his longest piano work apart from his Piano Sonata from 1938, when he was a Harvard undergraduate. Half his piano pieces are “anniversaries,” occasional compositions running a minute or two, composed to celebrate friends. Most of these short movements seem inconsequential, but many furnished material Bernstein developed in larger works, including Candide, On the Town, Serenade after Plato’s “Symposium,” and Mass, thereby providing “Name That Tune” delight for aficionados.
Among competing collections of his complete solo piano works, we have particularly enjoyed the readings by young pianist-on-the-rise Leann Osterkamp on this two-CD set. She infuses her interpretations with vigor, wit, sonic color, and a variegated touch, drawing effectively on the broad expressive range of her instrument. Hers is, moreover, the “completest” of the “complete piano works” now available, since she dug into the Bernstein archives and got permission from his estate to include seven short, unpublished items. These unearthed discoveries don’t add up to much, but if you’re going to be complete, you may as well go the distance.