> Rodgers and Hart Vol 3 [RW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard RODGERS (1902-79) and Lorenz HART (1895-1943)
The Ultimate Rodgers and Hart, Vol. 3

Original Cast recordings of excerpts from–
Too Many Girls (1939)
The Boys from Syracuse (1938)
Higher and Higher (1940)
Pal Joey (1940)
Up and Doing (1940)
They Met in Argentina (1941)
By Jupiter (1942)
Words and Music (film 1948)
Young Man with a Horn (film 1950)
Mary Jane Walsh, Diosa Costello, Allan Jones, Shirley Ross, Gene Kelly, Patricia Burke, Alberto Vila, Ray Boggier, Mel Torme, Lena Horn, Perry Como, Doris Day
Various orchestras and conductors (unknown)
PEARL GEM 0118 [62.52]


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Pearl seem to be taking the genre of Broadway quite seriously, for they have produced Music from the New York Stage ( 4 vols.), Broadway through the Gramophone (4 double vols.) and now this Ultimate series. This particular volume of the Ultimate series covers Rodgers’ middle period. In the Thirties, both Rodgers and Hart were fortunate in being in the right place at the right time: the musicals were in their heyday and Rodgers’ and Hart’s careers were greatly helped by association with America’s motion picture industry. By now, the studios had realised the potential of the talkies as a vehicle for bringing well-choreographed musicals to a wider audience. By keeping an eye on the Broadway scene lavish studio productions were created and this catapulted some rather average shows into stardom (as well as their creators with lucrative returns).

Richard Rodgers might have been little more than a small time song composer/pianist and band arranger of modest musicals if the talkies hadn’t been around to spring him to fame. Rodgers nurtured his association with the film industry, and this brought about wider exposure to his music, even after Hart had died in 1943. This important foundation led to the popularisation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein II collaboration of the Fifties with their world-wide fame. Rodgers followed Gershwin, Kern and Porter with stage-works and was equally at home with both conventional and blues styles of composition. Waltz tunes secured a place in the dance halls and further helped promote his musicals.

The period of this disc covers the narrow span of the Rodgers and Hart portfolio (between 1939 and 1942) when they were producing musicals in quick succession. The disc also contains film music of two titles, which appeared after Hart’s untimely death due to alcoholism at the age of 48 years. A number of the musical titles will be unknown to the reader but some tracks are still well known and have stood the test of time. (This Can’t be Love from Up and Doing is one of them.) I should have been interested to read more about the length of the Broadway runs (to give a measure of the popularity) — Pal Joey’s run was short when compared alongside By Jupiter and A Connecticut Yankee, yet is the best remembered today. Of Pal Joey’s thirteen numbers only a dialogue scene represents the production here, taken from an actual performance. What happened to I could write a Book and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, which have been twice recorded elsewhere?

Victor, Columbia and Capitol record companies were active in recording new shows, with Victor and Columbia having followed the Broadway scene since 1910 (see Pearl’s Broadway of the Gramophone series of 4 double volumes reviewed elsewhere on the site). The records are ones issued as original cast recordings. Of the singers, Gene Kelly and Doris Day are most memorable to my generation, but listen also to the velvety rendering of Nothing but You from Higher and Higher (tk10) by the relaxed Shirley Ross. Doris Day’s warm singing in With a Song in my Heart is sadly ruined by a garish trumpeter (tk22).

If asked to summarise Rodgers’ music one would consider it melodious, without complexity nor much underscoring, and predictable orchestral decoration by the brass between the lyrics. He doesn’t seem to explore variations with the strings to change the texture of a piece. String accompaniment generally follows the vocal line and although the music has immediate mental access, for me too many playings can become quickly monotonous. Those pieces that allow a good singer to communicate their character are often more effective.

As expected from this label, Pearl has done a good job with their transfers from clean record copies. The equalisation is good. Some wow on tk12 must have been present when cutting and fortunately is confined to the woodwind and does not affect the voice. The CD notes are adequate though yet more detail about recording venues, orchestras and their conductors would have been welcomed. We are not told whether all available recordings of each musical have been traced and included on this disc because I might have expected more than one representation from Pal Joey and By Jupiter.

Raymond Walker

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