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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Candide. A Comic Operetta in Two Acts (1956) [116:43]
Book by Hugh Wheeler after Voltaire
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur with additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman and Leonard Bernstein
Candide – Leonardo Capalbo (tenor)
Cunegonde – Jane Archibald (soprano)
The Old Lady – Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano)
Dr Pangloss / Narrator – Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)
Maximillian/Captain/Second Judge – Marcus Farnsworth (baritone)
Paquette – Carmen Artaza (mezzo-soprano)
First Judge/Señor/Governor/Vanderdendur/Venice Prefect – Thomas Atkins (tenor)
Heresy Agent/Archbishop of Paris/Slave Driver – Liam Bonthrone (tenor)
Third Judge/Crook – Jonathan Eyers (baritone)
Baron/Grand Inquisitor/Don Isaac/Señor/Manuel/Cacambo/Ragotski – Frederick Jones (tenor)
Baroness/Second Sheep – Lucy McAuley (mezzo-soprano)
First Sheep – Katherine McIndoe (soprano)
Guildhall School Young Artists; London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra / Marin Alsop.
rec. live 8 & 9 December 2018, The Barbican, London
Sung texts included
LSO LIVE LSO0834 SACD [73:13 + 43:30]

This recording was made at a pair of concert performances given by the LSO as the climax to their celebrations of the centenary of their former President, Leonard Bernstein. The first of the two performances was reviewed for Seen and Heard International by Colin Clarke.

Candide was a glittering satirical creation, though perhaps too clever for its own good? A glance at the names involved in book, music and lyrics at the top of this review shows what a stellar group of individuals was involved in its creation. But before we go any further, I suppose we need to consider the question of what is actually performed here. Like so many music-theatre shows, Candide has been revised several times over the years – or, rather, the book has been revised and then the rest of the show moulded around the book. In the case of Candide, the show has gone through almost as many revisions as a Bruckner symphony! The textural history is summarised in Nigel Simeone’s notes and was discussed in even more detail by Andrew Porter in a lengthy essay in the booklet accompanying the studio recording that the composer made for DG in December 1989. That recording, which also featured the LSO, was made following performances at The Barbican. The DG booklet proclaims that listeners are hearing the “final revised version, 1989”. You might suppose, therefore, that even if the spoken elements were revised, future performances would follow at least the same musical text, especially because it apparently bears Bernstein’s imprimatur since that’s the version he recorded. However, what’s presented in this new LSO Live recording is “based on the 2004 Lonny Price production for New York Philharmonic and Marin Alsop” My Seen and Head colleague Bruce Hodges reviewed that New York performance. Elsewhere in the LSO Live booklet we read that “this performance is a version devised by director Garnett Bruce and conductor Marin Alsop”. You see what I mean about Brucknerian complexity?

This Alsop performance differs in several textural ways from her mentor’s recording. For a start, Bernstein recorded only the music whereas the Alsop recording preserves a live performance which includes quite a lot of spoken narration (by Sir Thomas Allen) and passages of dialogue. The Bernstein recording plays for just short of 112:00; this Alsop version plays for only about five minutes longer despite the inclusion of significant amounts of speech. Perhaps more revealing is a comparison of the timings of the two Acts. In the two recordings the musical aspects of Act I are very similar and Bernstein’s performance plays for 60:45 against Alsop’s 73:13. However, in Act II Bernstein includes seven musical numbers which aren’t in the Alsop version. As a result, his performance plays for 50:47 sans dialogue, whereas Alsop’s performance, including dialogue, runs for 43:30.

So, if it’s musical content you’re after, the Bernstein version is the one to go for. Inevitably, though, it isn’t quite a simple as that. What we have in the Bernstein version is a studio recording of the music. What Marin Alsop offers us is a souvenir of an evening’s concert presentation of the show. You might not always want to hear the spoken bits, of course, but I found that this LSO Live rendition was entertaining and coherent throughout. Furthermore, if Marin Alsop had opted to play all the music recorded by the composer and then add onto that the spoken passages it would have been a very long evening. So, a pragmatic decision has been made and Alsop retains all the key musical numbers.

The Alsop performance has a great deal going for it. The London Symphony Orchestra offers razor-sharp playing from start to finish and the contributions of the London Symphony Chorus are splendidly spirited throughout. Alsop has a fine supporting cast in which Marcus Farnsworth and Thomas Atkins particularly stand out. Amongst the stellar cast assembled for Bernstein was Nicolai Gedda, no less, taking three smaller parts including the Governor. When it comes to the Governor’s Act II solo ‘My Love’, Thomas Atkins need not fear the comparison with Gedda; indeed, I rather prefer him.

Sir Thomas Allen is a distinguished and highly entertaining Narrator/Pangloss. His narration is delivered in a witty, avuncular fashion, which I very much enjoyed. We know he’s a splendid actor from his operatic career; here, he shows that ability in the way he delivers the spoken text. In the role of Pangloss he’s up against Bernstein’s long-time collaborator, Adolph Green. The two are as different as chalk and cheese. Allen’s singing of ‘The Best of all Possible Worlds’ and ‘Dear Boy’ is suave and polished – and highly enjoyable. Green, on the other hand, offers a sharp, Broadway style which, arguably, is more in keeping with the concept of Candide. Incidentally, in ‘Auto-da-fé’ the two recordings use very different texts. The Bernstein version includes substantial passages for Pangloss which aren’t in the Alsop performance; that’s a pity since I’d like to have heard Allen’s take on this music. I’d say that both Allen and Green bring very distinctive but completely different approaches to their roles. I don’t think either will disappoint.

I must confess I was a bit surprised to find Anne Sofie von Otter cast as The Old Lady because I’d never associated her with such a full-on comic role; but, then, I suppose you might say the same about Christa Ludwig, who sang for Bernstein. Ms von Otter rises to the occasion and brings out the broad humour in ‘I am easily assimilated’ and (with Jane Archibald) in ‘We are Women’. In ‘I am easily assimilated’ von Otter kicks over the traces in a funny, sharply pointed performance. The snag is, when one listens to Christa Ludwig everything goes up a gear. The Bernstein recording was preceded by live performances at The Barbican and anyone who has seen on YouTube Ludwig’s outrageously over the top performance will not easily forget it – it was trending mightily on social media after her death earlier this year. Even though in the studio she had no audience to spur her on, she still gives the song the full treatment, no doubt encouraged by Bernstein on the podium. Ludwig rolls every ‘r’ in sight and relishes the text in a way that von Otter doesn’t quite match. Interestingly, Bernstein adopts a slightly slower tempo than Alsop and that works brilliantly. It was party time in the Abbey Road Studio; Ludwig and Bernstein have a ball. Don’t get me wrong; von Otter is excellent – but Ludwig is sensational. When it comes to the risqué ‘We are Women’ Jane Archibald and Anne Sofie von Otter are highly entertaining, but for Lenny, June Anderson and Christa Ludwig are even saucier.

The Canadian, Jane Archibald is a very good Cunegonde for Marin Alsop. She offers a great deal of lovely singing and really engages our sympathies for the heroine, not least in her duets with Candide. To her falls one of the most famous numbers – perhaps the most famous number - in the show, ‘Glitter and be Gay’. What a brilliant piece of parody writing this is: Bellini meets late nineteenth-century melodrama. Archibald gives a virtuoso rendition of all the canary-fancier’s vocal acrobatics and she’s superb in the ‘fallen woman’ passages (especially ‘Pearls and ruby rings…’) As usual with LSO Live recordings, applause has been edited out but I bet Jane Archibald brought the house down in the concerts; and rightly so. Singing under studio conditions, June Anderson is, if anything, finer still. At least as recorded, her voice isa bit larger, so she can fill out the sound very well in the opening part of the aria. This larger voice doesn’t impede vocal agility elsewhere, though. She and Bernstein milk the ‘fallen woman’ passages for all they’re worth. When I got to the end of the aria in the Anderson rendition I scribbled in my notes “diva and a half”; it’s a fabulous performance.

The Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo takes the title role for Alsop. I must come clean and say that as a matter of personal taste I’m not entirely convinced by the sound of his voice. To be sure, he sings well but he seems to me to lack the sweetness that one hears from Jerry Hadley in the Bernstein set. One of the big moments for the tenor is ‘Candide’s Lament’. Interestingly, on the Bernstein recording we hear this immediately before ‘Dear Boy’ – in other words before ‘Auto-da-fé’; Alsop places the Lament immediately after the ‘Auto-da-fé’. The two solos are very different too. The composer takes the music significantly slower than Alsop does and, in addition, the words and music differ between the two versions. Bernstein makes the music ultra-expressive – and Jerry Hadley’s wonderfully engaging singing backs up the conductor’s concept. Alsop’s more flowing speed works in its own way but unfortunately Capalbo’s singing lacks the tenderness of Hadley; for me, he’s too tense. Right at the end, introducing ‘Make our Garden Grow’, Capalbo doesn’t invest the music with anything like the same degree of poetry that Hadley brings to the music. Others may warm to Capalbo’s timbre and way with the music more than I did, but for me it’s game, set and match to Hadley.

What of the conductors? Marin Alsop was the obvious choice for this assignment; she was Bernstein’s protégée and she’s made an extensive series of very fine recordings of his music for Naxos (review). She’s right on top of the music and she conducts with energy, flair and downright pizzazz. Anyone buying these discs will find that Candide is in extremely capable hands. But if we’re looking for the “best of all possible worlds”, we have to turn to Lenny himself. I bought his DG recording when it first came out, way back in 1991, and I enjoyed it immensely. At the risk of seeming to pay Marin Alsop a backhanded compliment – which is not my intention – it was only when comparing her conducting of Candide, which is idiomatic, stylish and excellent in every way, that I realised just how extraordinarily good Bernstein’s conducting is. His direction of the music oozes charisma, and if you think that at times he’s a bit over the top, then surely that’s what this music needs. I’ve already alluded to the way he injects something extra into numbers such as ‘I am easily assimilated’ and ‘Glitter and be Gay’. Another example is the overture. What a fantastic, exuberant curtain raiser this is! Marin Alsop conducts a sparkling performance but Bernstein offers even more. He takes the music at a faster pace and in his hands, it fizzes and sparkles; his performance is more unbuttoned. ‘Auto-da-fé’ is a positive riot under Bernstein. Of course, he knew from his direct experience in the 1950s what a biting satire of McCarthyism this number is. There’s a lot going for the Alsop account of this number, including a decidedly sinister Spanish Inquisitor, but Bernstein is punchier. Right at the end, ‘Make our Garden Grow’ shows the difference between our two conductors. Marin Alsop’s performance is stirring but she’s not as daringly expansive as Bernstein, whose heart is definitely on his sleeve. It’s no mean achievement in a studio recording to inspire all your performers to match or even surpass the fervour of a live performance but somehow Bernstein pulls it off. Alsop’s performers give their all and were clearly inspired by the occasion. ‘Make our Garden Grow’ is a terrific conclusion to their performance, but by some alchemy Lenny draws out of his cast a degree of fervour that perhaps they didn’t know they possessed; that’s great conducting for you.

After these comparisons, so many of which have gone in favour of the Bernstein recording, you may be expecting me to make that an outright recommendation. Well, up to a point, yes; but life’s never that straightforward. I think Bernstein has the stronger cast overall, though I wouldn’t want to miss Sir Thomas Alen’s contributions. The LSO and London Symphony Chorus of 2018 match the achievements of their 1989 peers: honours are even. Bernstein’s conducting of his own score is uniquely charismatic but Marin Alsop is a worthy rival to her mentor. You get more music on the Bernstein recording but the LSO Live version preserves a live event and gives you a better flavour of the show itself. All of which leads me to the conclusion that all Bernstein devotees really need both recordings in their collection.

The LSO Live recorded sound is very good. As usual with Barbican recordings, the sound is quite close, but not excessively so. When I did A/B comparisons, playing the LSO Live discs on my SACD player (the stereo layer) and the DG discs on my CD player, I found I had to adjust the volume down for the DG recording, which even after 30 years still has bags of impact.

LSO Live’s documentation is very good, including the libretto and an authoritative essay and synopsis by Bernstein expert Nigel Simeone as well as a personal introduction by Marin Alsop. Incidentally, the libretto does not include the spoken words but these are all very clear, especially Thomas Alen’s contributions.

I’m very glad to have this highly entertaining account of Candide to set beside the composer’s own version.

John Quinn

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