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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990) and Richard RODGERS (1902 – 1979)
BERNSTEIN: Candide: Overture; Jerry HERMAN: La Cage aux Folles: I Am What I Am; Marvin HAMLISH: A Chorus Line Medley: At the Ballet; What I Did for Love; One; RODGERS: Waltz Medley: Lover; The Most Beautiful Girl in the World; It’s a Good Night For Singing; Oh, What a Beautiful Morning; Falling in Love With Love; Carousel Waltz; The Sound of Music Medley: The Sound of Music; Do, Re, Mi; Edelweiss; My Favourite Things; Climb Every Mountain; Andrew LLOYD-WEBBER: Cats: Memories; RODGERS: On Your Toes: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue; BERNSTEIN: West Side Story Medley: I Feel Pretty; Maria; Something’s Coming; Tonight; Somewhere; Cool; One Hand, One Heart; America
Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas (Duo Pianists); Arrangements by Homer Denison
No information about recording dates and venues.
Originally released on KEM-DISC 1009 in 1986.
PHOENIX PHCD 152 [51:22]

The cover of the CD says "Leonard Bernstein Richard Rodgers Classics" and that’s the truth, but not the full truth. In between the two Greats are, as can be seen in the heading, songs by some important composers from a later generation. But "Classics" they are; all of them.

We are used to hearing them, though, sung with lush orchestral back-up. Here they are played on two Steinway grand pianos. Does that work? Well, it depends upon what we mean by "works". Almost all American show-songs from the 1920s onwards, which have reached ‘evergreen’ status, have been performed and recorded in every imaginable and unimaginable arrangement and we have said; "Yes, why not? How interesting." Billie Holiday sang them in her special way, Frankie Boy in his. But here we have two classically-trained pianists who treat at least part of the songs in a "classical" way. And they are good players, sensitive to nuance, rhythmically alert and they have marvellous timing – you get a feeling sometimes that there are forty fingers directed by one common brain. The playing per se is very convincing.

But since I know almost all of this music in its original version, and since the short booklet commentary stresses "The Sound of Broadway" I can’t help making comparisons with the originals. Deliberately I didn’t make any side-by-side comparisons, but the originals are there in the back of my head, and I can’t shut them out. While listening I scribbled down some comments and looking at those notes while writing this I’ll point out some things that might give you an idea of what to expect if you buy the disc.

Some things work better than others. The first number, the Candide Overture, is surprisingly successful, although you miss the almost shocking contrasts, the punch, in Bernstein’s orchestral version. But since most of the music is fast and rather percussive you can feel satisfied. The duo swings well in the "Glitter and be gay" part of the piece.

Moving over to "La Cage aux Folles" you at first get a feeling of being transported to some classy piano bar; it’s nice background music. Still, when the chords thicken, we feel a certain thrill and understand that this is meant for listening, not just hearing.

Those thick chords later on appear again and again. After a while they might make you feel tired. It reminds me of listening to a barbershop group or some other close-harmony choir: it gets monotonous however well it is performed. It’s like a painter who has a limited number of colours which he uses over and over again, or someone using a matrix which he forces all the pieces into, whatever shape they are. There is a certain sameness to the music.

On the other hand, even if all these pieces of cake have the same filling, Homer Denison, the confectioner, has many delicious ideas when it comes to decorating them. Listen for example to "Memories" (from ‘Cats’) with harp imitations – very beautiful, maybe too much pedal; it becomes too sugary in the end. And in some pieces he almost hides the original melody with icing; try "Maria" from ‘West Side Story’ as an example. No, better listening to the whole medley. To find the separate songs in these medleys isn’t so easy, since they are not separately banded.

I enjoyed much of this CD and, as my wife said: "It is good music indeed that can be both listened to and talked to." By the way, she was almost frightened to death when I played Rodgers’ "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" at fairly high volume. I won’t tell you why. Listen to it and you will understand!

But still, the overall impression, when playing the disc in one sitting, is monochrome. So if you, for a change, want Broadway music in black and white instead of Technicolor, this is something for you.

Göran Forsling

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