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
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
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.