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Andrew LLOYD WEBBER (b. 1948)
The Phantom of the Opera (1986) arr. Crafton Beck
1 The Phantom of the Opera
2 The Music of the Night
3 Think of Me
4 Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
5 All I Ask of You
6 Angel of Music
Sunset Boulevard (1993) arr. Steven Reineke
7 As If We Never Said Goodbye
8 The Greatest Star of All
9 With One Look
Cats (1981) arr. Tommy Newsom
10 Memory
Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) arr .Crafton Beck
11 I Don't Know How to Love Him
12 Gethsemane ( I Only Want to Say)
13 King Herod's Song
Evita (1976) arr. Steven Reineke
14 Don't Cry For Me, Argentina
Starlight Express (1984) arr. Steven Reineke
15 Starlight Express
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968) arr. Steven Reineke
16 Any Dream Will Do
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
Recorded Cincinnati, June 1995
TELARC CD- 80405 [68:46]

 

A word of warning for those fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber who might be rushing to buy this compilation of favourites from his shows: you will not be getting the real thing. These are arrangements that mostly reduce what were vocal numbers to a uniform, orchestral romantic slush. The arrangers have applied their considerable skills to knock out of the original tunes any special character they may have had. Even Lloyd Webber's better melodies can barely survive being reduced to numbing banality.

I will give you an example. The last track is from the composer's earliest successful show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Number Any Dream Will Do is a joyful, refreshingly simple melody written when Lloyd Webber was nineteen. The guitar accompaniment of the original show and LP maintain a suitable rhythmic momentum yet are restrained enough to highlight the sung tune. Here, the arranger, Steven Reineke, gives us an extended intro in 1930s/1940s Hollywood movie fashion followed by a set of renderings in different styles. One of them tears the song from the musical's Old Testament setting to the Wild West by souping it up into a pastiche of Elmer Bernstein's famous title music from The Magnificent Seven, even including the distinctive pounding rhythms. Of course, you could regard this as a good musical joke or as an example of musical acrobatics by the arranger, but it does not do Lloyd Webber and his music any favours. If the composer sanctioned this disc – which I presume he must - then his soul is already sold.

I belong to the school of thought that believes Andrew Lloyd Webber, as a tunesmith, rarely fulfilled his early promise. It seems to me he was at his best with the unpretentious tunes of Joseph and when setting Tim Rice’s words in Jesus Christ, Superstar, sometimes with considerable power. He fails, I think, when consciously trying to write a hit tune, which I assume to be the case, with, for example, Don’t Cry for me Argentina from Evita and Memory from Cats, both of which I have always thought poor melodies.

Some of the numbers on this disc are pretty banal in the first place so it is difficult for the arrangers to do much damage, but when it comes to distinguished contributions, such as the three selections from Superstar, the arranger’s treatment should be classed as a musical crime. For example, I Don’t Know How to Love Him is a superb verse melody sung by Mary Magdalene that powerfully responds to the words (even though ALW initially wrote an early version to different lyrics). After two verses the music starts a series of sharpward key modulations that build a climax before magically settling back to a recapitulation of the main melody in the original key. This is then repeated with minor variations. The arranger, Crafton Beck, starts the tune as a slow flute solo followed by toe-curling sentimental strings. At the climax’s second time, which is so ponderously built it loses momentum, he changes the music so that the magical return effect is wrecked. All is inappropriately rounded off with an added coda that includes heroic trumpets. The tune is good enough to survive in parts.

King Herod’s Song suffers another gratuitous coda that spoils the original ending. Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber combined in Herod to produce what must be one of the wittiest numbers in the history of showbiz. The idea of rendering it in ragtime was an inspired irony and it ends in style with a sharp and witty close, complete with honky tonk piano. In this arrangement the ragtime spirit is well recreated but then ruined at the end with an out-of-style, overblown coda that almost takes us into 1812 country complete with ringing bells.

The Cincinnati Pops orchestra under Erich Kunzel does what is required of it faultlessly and the recorded sound is "enhanced" by a new brand technology called "Spatializer" which claims to create "a three dimensional surround listening experience using two ordinary stereo speakers" . Good as the sound is, I found this an exaggerated claim.

If you would like to own a CD of Lloyd Webber hits that is nearer to the spirit of the originals then I would recommend sung versions. There are plenty of compilations around. To mention two that are currently available, there is Decca’s Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection in which most numbers are sung by Sarah Brightman with cameo roles for José Carreras, Michael Crawford and John Gielgud. Second, there is PolyGram’s The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber which is a collection of different sung recordings but does include two tracks from the original Jesus Christ, Superstar LP that pre-dated the staged show.

John Leeman



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