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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Best of Broadway - Original 1940–1955 Recordings
Excerpts from Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, Show Boat, Kismet, Porgy and Bess, Girl Crazy, Call Me Madam, Annie Get Your Gun, High Button Shoes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Brigadoon, On the Town, Wonderful Town, Kiss Me, Kate, The Boy Friend, Where’s Charley? and Guys and Dolls.
Alfred Drake, Ezio Pinza, Mary Martin, Gertrude Lawrence, Yul Brynner, Todd Duncan, Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, George Gaynes and others.
For full details at end of review
NAXOS 8.120873-74 [76:44 + 79:32]



Naxos have, as in so many other areas, worked up an extensive catalogue of Broadway Musical highlights, in most cases with original cast recordings. It is from this admirable source that this 2 CD set has been compiled. It can be seen as an appetizer for those who have so far not ventured to investigate these riches. On the other hand it also serves as a nice concoction of gems from some of the most popular musical comedies for those who are only mildly interested but would like at least something to fill a theoretical gap. For both categories these well-filled discs will be a splendid and inexpensive stocking-filler - I’m writing this in mid-December.

Those who are already familiar with "period performances" of light music will know what to expect. For those who have only heard latter-day musicals or modern realizations of these old scores, a little warning sign. The orchestras will probably sound dated to inexperienced ears and the style of singing is in many cases more relaxed, less aggressive than we are accustomed to today. There is a parallel with period performances of baroque music when the authentic movement was fairly new. Those of us who had learnt Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos or Handel’s Water Music through performances or recordings with full symphony orchestras thought the authentic sound was thin and grating, even out of tune sometimes. We regretted the meatier sound of stringed instruments played with vibrato. But we soon, some of us at least, found out that there were gains, that we heard things we hadn’t thought of before, the contrapuntal writing and the rhythms became more accessible. Basically it was a question of two different attitudes. I can still wallow in the lush sound of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra, vintage 1960 or something, playing Bach’s Suite in D major. Likewise I listen with pleasure to the recordings from the 1980s and 1990s, often conducted by John McGlinn or John Mauceri, of many of the scores also presented on this set. They made extensive research to find the original orchestrations, even tracked down some of the original orchestrators still alive, to get as close to the original sound as possible. With modern stereophonic sound the results are very impressive indeed and these reissues, however well transferred and restored, tend to pale by comparison, just as some of the singers, as I have already intimated, may be too laid back and even bland heard through today’s ears.

Still there is a particular atmosphere around these old 78 rpms or early LPs and seen as historical documents they are invaluable. I say this bearing in mind that the majority of the singers here also sang at the first performances and consequently worked very close to the composers and text-writers. There is, to pick some examples more or less at random, a special treat to hear Alfred Drake in excerpts from Oklahoma, to savour Christine Johnson’s fruity contralto in You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel – not ideally steady but singing with feeling. Ezio Pinza on the other hand, legendary bass at the Metropolitan, is steady as a rock in South Pacific and his warmth is palpable in Some Enchanted Evening. In the excerpts from The King and I Gertrude Lawrence is decidedly modern sounding and it’s a pleasure to have a glimpse of Yul Brynner, not a great singer but a charismatic actor. Show Boat was launched in the late 1920s and what we have here is from the Broadway revival in 1946. It must be admitted that Kenneth Spencer has to struggle hard and still comes only halfway down to the keelson deep notes in Ol’ Man River.

Porgy and Bess is indicated "Original Cast 1940", which is correct as far as Broadway is concerned, but it was premiered in Boston five years earlier with Anne Brown as Bess and Todd Duncan as Porgy. They are both heard here but Brown sings Clara’s Summertime and Todd Duncan performs Sporting Life’s two songs. He does it very well but I would also recommend readers to try to find the ‘original’ Sporting Life, John W. Bubbles, who recorded the part for RCA Victor in the early 1960s on a highlights record featuring Leontyne Price and William Warfield.

In several of these musicals we hear Ethel Merman. I know she has been iconized and is regarded as one of the all-time greats. It is true that she has charisma and is expressive and she is certainly one of the most modern sounding of the singers here. Still I have problems in fathoming her greatness when hearing those nasal, bleating sounds and her glass-shattering screams. The duet Anything You Can Do with Ray Middleton as Frank Butler is entertaining and exciting but I do prefer Kim Criswell and Thomas Hampson on the McGlinn-conducted EMI disc from 1991. That said, it has to be admitted that Ms Criswell has learnt a lesson or two from Merman.

It is also good to have a couple of numbers from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town and Wonderful Town with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Bernstein’s collaborators in these scores. West Side Story came just a little too late to be out of copyright and be included in this issue.

The booklet has historical notes and synopses for all the musicals by Alexander Hargreaves and this adds further to the value of this issue.

I had 2½ hours’ of sheer nostalgia in my armchair when playing through this set. Even though I will probably want to hear my modern versions of much of this music this compilation opens up the prospect of hours of fascinating comparison.

Göran Forsling



FULL TRACK DETAILS

Disc 1
Richard Rodgers
Oklahoma! (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Drake, Alfred, vocals
Garde, Bette, vocals
Riggs, Ralph, vocals
Oklahoma Chorus
Oklahoma Orchestra
Blackton, Jay, Conductor

Act I: Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin' 02:32
Act I: The Surrey With The Fringe On Top 03:06
Act II: The Farmer And The Cowman 05:17
Act II: Oklahoma! 02:30
Carousel (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Clayton, Jan, vocals
Raitt, John, vocals
Darling, Jean, vocals
Johnson, Christine, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Littau, Joseph, Conductor

Act I: Carousel Waltz 04:23
Act I: If I Loved You 04:22
Act I: June Is Bustin' Out All Over 03:47
Act II: You'll Never Walk Alone 02:40
South Pacific (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Pinza, Ezio, bass
Martin, Mary, vocals
Hall, Juanita, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
dell'Isola, Salvatore, Conductor

Act I: Some Enchanted Evening 02:59
Act I: Bali Ha'i 03:25
Act I: I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair 03:25
Act II: This Nearly Was Mine 03:26
The King and I (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Lawrence, Gertrude, vocals
Brynner, Yul, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Dvonch, Frederick, Conductor

Act I: I Whistle A Happy Tune 02:40
Act I: Getting To Know You 03:27
Act II: Shall We Dance? 02:51
Jerome Kern
Show Boat (1946 Broadway Revival Recording) (excerpts)

Dowdy, Helen, vocals
Spencer, Kenneth, vocals
Bruce, Carol, vocals
Show Boat Orchestra
MacArthur, Edwin, Conductor

Act I: Ol' Man River 04:18
Act I: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man 04:00
Robert Wright/George Forrest
Kismet (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Morrow, Doretta, vocals
Kiley, Richard, vocals
Oneto, Richard, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Adrian, Louis, Conductor

Act I: Baubles, Bangles And Beads 04:11
Act I: Stranger In Paradise 04:07
George Gershwin
Porgy and Bess (Original Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Brown, Anne, soprano
Duncan, Todd, tenor
Eva Jessye Choir
Decca Symphony Orchestra
Smallens, Alexander, Conductor

Act I: Summertime 02:28
Brown, Anne, soprano
Decca Symphony Orchestra
Smallens, Alexander, Conductor


Act II: I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' 02:42
Duncan, Todd, tenor
Eva Jessye Choir
Decca Symphony Orchestra
Smallens, Alexander, Conductor


Act II: It Ain't Necessarily So 02:48
Duncan, Todd, tenor
Eva Jessye Choir
Decca Symphony Orchestra
Smallens, Alexander, Conductor


 
Disc 2
George Gershwin
Girl Crazy, Act I: I Got Rhythm

Merman, Ethel, vocals
Jay Blackton Orchestra
Blackton, Jay, Conductor

Girl Crazy, Act I: I Got Rhythm 03:01
Irving Berlin
Call Me Madam (excerpts)

Merman, Ethel, vocals
Nype, Russell, vocals
Talva, Galina, vocals
O'Connor, Donald, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Studio Cast Orchestra
Studio orchestra
Jenkins, Gordon, Conductor
Blackton, Jay, Conductor
Newman, Alfred, Conductor

Act I: The Hostess With The Mostes' (1950 Studio Recording) 03:25
Act I: It's A Lovely Day Today (1950 Original Broadway Cast Recording) 03:32
Act II: You're Just In Love (1953 Film Soundtrack Recording) 03:09
Annie Get Your Gun (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Merman, Ethel, vocals
Middleton, Ray, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Children's Choir
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Blackton, Jay, Conductor

Act I: Doin' What Comes Natur'lly 03:25
Act I: You Can't Get A Man With A Gun 03:13
Act I: There's No Business Like Show Business 03:11
Act II: Anything You Can Do 03:10
Jule Styne
High Button Shoes (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Act I: Papa, Won't You Dance With Me?

Fabray, Nanette, vocals
McCauley, Jack, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Rosenstock, Milton, Conductor

High Button Shoes (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Act I: Papa, Won't You Dance With Me? 02:56
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Original Broadway Cast Recording)(excerpts)

Channing, Carol, vocals
McCauley, Jack, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Rosenstock, Milton, Conductor

Act II: Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend 02:59
Act II: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 01:05
Frederick Loewe
Brigadoon (Original Broadway Case Recording) (excerpts)

Brooks, David, vocals
Bell, Marion, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Allers, Franz, Conductor

Act I: The Heather On The Hill 03:39
Act I: Almost Like Being In Love 02:43
Leonard Bernstein
On the Town, Act II: Some Other Time

Comden, Betty, vocals
Green, Adolph, vocals
Green, Milton, piano
Arndt, Justin, double bass
Harris, Herb, drums

On the Town, Act II: Some Other Time 01:50
Wonderful Town (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Act I: A Quiet Girl

Gaynes, George, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Engel, Lehman, Conductor

Wonderful Town (Original Broadway Cast Recording), Act I: A Quiet Girl 03:20
Cole Porter
Kiss Me, Kate (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Morison, Patricia, vocals
Kirk, Lisa, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Davenport, Pembroke, Conductor

Act I: So In Love 03:36
Act II: Always True To You (In My Fashion) 04:02
Sandy Wilson
The Boy Friend (Original London Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Rogers, Anne, vocals
Hayes, Anthony, vocals
Edwards, Stan, piano
Studio pianist, piano
Studio drummer, drums

Act I: I Could Be Happy With You 02:50
Act II: A Room in Bloomsbury 02:45
Frank Loesser
Where's Charley?, Act II: Once In Love With Amy

Bolger, Ray, vocals
Sy Oliver Chorus
Sy Oliver Orchestra

Where's Charley?, Act II: Once In Love With Amy 04:20
Guys and Dolls (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (excerpts)

Alda, Robert, vocals
Blaine, Vivian, vocals
Levene, Sam, vocals
Bigley, Isabel, vocals
Kaye, Stubby, vocals
Silver, Johnny, vocals
Original Broadway Cast Chorus
Original Broadway Cast Orchestra
Actman, Irving, Conductor

Act I: The Oldest Established 02:36
Act I: I'll Know 03:30
Act I: A Bushel And A Peck 01:33
Act I: Guys and Dolls 02:52
Act II: Luck Be A Lady Tonight 03:00
Act II: Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat 02:13



Total Playing Time: 02:33:19
Composer(s):
Berlin, Irving; Bernstein, Leonard; Forrest, George; Gershwin, George; Kern, Jerome; Loesser, Frank; Loewe, Frederick; Porter, Cole; Rodgers, Richard; Styne, Jule; Wilson, Sandy; Wright, Robert
Conductor(s):
Actman, Irving; Adrian, Louis; Allers, Franz; Blackton, Jay; Davenport, Pembroke; dell'Isola, Salvatore; Dvonch, Frederick; Engel, Lehman; Jenkins, Gordon; Littau, Joseph; MacArthur, Edwin; Newman, Alfred; Rosenstock, Milton; Smallens, Alexander
Orchestra(s):
Decca Symphony Orchestra, Jay Blackton Orchestra, Oklahoma Orchestra, Original Broadway Cast Orchestra, Show Boat Orchestra, Studio Cast Orchestra, Studio orchestra, Sy Oliver Orchestra
Choir(s):
Eva Jessye Choir, Oklahoma Chorus, Original Broadway Cast Children's Choir, Original Broadway Cast Chorus, Sy Oliver Chorus
Artist(s):
Alda, Robert; Arndt, Justin; Bell, Marion; Bigley, Isabel; Blaine, Vivian; Bolger, Ray; Brooks, David; Brown, Anne; Bruce, Carol; Brynner, Yul; Channing, Carol; Clayton, Jan; Comden, Betty; Darling, Jean; Dowdy, Helen; Drake, Alfred; Duncan, Todd; Edwards, Stan; Fabray, Nanette; Garde, Bette; Gaynes, George; Green, Adolph; Green, Milton; Hall, Juanita; Harris, Herb; Hayes, Anthony; Johnson, Christine; Kaye, Stubby; Kiley, Richard; Kirk, Lisa; Lawrence, Gertrude; Levene, Sam; Martin, Mary; McCauley, Jack; Merman, Ethel; Middleton, Ray; Morison, Patricia; Morrow, Doretta; Nype, Russell; O'Connor, Donald; Oneto, Richard; Pinza, Ezio; Raitt, John; Riggs, Ralph; Rogers, Anne; Silver, Johnny; Spencer, Kenneth; Studio drummer; Studio pianist; Talva, Galina
Label: Naxos
Catalogue No: 8.120873-74


 


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