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
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
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.