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Bernstein Candide LSO0834
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Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Candide, A Comic Operetta in Two Acts (1956)
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
Reviewed in PCM Stereo
LSO LIVE LSO0834 SACD [73:13 + 43:30]

A strangely sobering thought occurs on auditioning a new version of Bernstein’s Candide. After having lived through the last two years of pandemic strife, one can see clearly that the very same bizarre, destructive, and anti social human environment is firmly ensconced in our present day as it was during Bernstein/Hellman’s; not to mention Voltaire’s era. This makes Candide seem not so much a nostalgic tribute to the glory days of operetta and musicals, but rather it’s a deceptively pithy comment on the wacky state of human behaviour in general. The rapier wit of Dr Pangloss’ song “Dear Boy” acquires a new edge to its ironic STD message, when heard in conjunction with the scourge of the Omicron variant, surging on its path around the globe.

The unfortunate history of this problematic musical could fill an entire book detailing its long path to being accepted as the brilliant evening of theatre that it is. It has taken many hands and countless productions to achieve the robust shape that it finds itself in today. The one certain thing is if Columbia Records President, Goddard Lieberson, had not believed so strongly in producing the original 1956 Broadway cast album, the music of Candide would likely not have survived its initial stage run of only 73 performances and I doubt I would be having the opportunity to review a new recording of it on SACD today. While the original stage production may have been too heavy, overblown and literal, the score, as it was preserved on that amazing recording, was not. The 1956 recording’s powerhouse cast has never been successfully matched on any succeeding version; I can count ten of them that I am aware of. While this new LSO version contains more music than the 1956 recording, it still has to take a back seat to it, along with virtually all of the competition.

This release is from a 2018 concert version that Marin Alsop prepared with the London Symphony for a short run at the Barbican. The performing edition was an adaptation of an earlier semi-staged concert which was given in May 2004, with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. That series was recorded and released on DVD by Image Entertainment. That DVD can still be located on the resale market and is well worth seeking out for its high-octane, star-studded cast and a lively, chaotic rendition of the narration/dialogue. Judging by both performances Ms Alsop’s direction of the Overture and much of the other music is less raucous than Bernstein’s; in general her tempi are a bit more leisurely, more so in the LSO release than in the New York DVD. Here the engineers have captured the playing of the LSO orchestra and chorus with exceptional clarity and richness, with just enough impression of the aural space in the Barbican to place one in the midst of the live occasion.

The cast, taken as a whole is a series of disappointments. Leonardo Capalbo’s Candide is too beefy of tone to successfully portray the wide-eyed naiveté of the title role. Frequently his pitch sags and sustained notes tend to sound effortful for him. A far more winning Candide was the original’s Robert Rounseville or the delightfully boyish Paul Groves on the 2004 DVD.

The dialogue and narration closely follows that of that 2004 performance, but on this occasion the cast delivers it in a very dull, straightforward manner which lacks any effervescence. The one exception to this is Thomas Allen who delivers his dialogue with real comic skill and an expert sense of pacing. Mr Allen is the one cast member who also appeared in the same role in the 2004 New York version, where his voice was in far more robust shape. For the LSO recording his tone has become fairly grey-sounding and maintaining pitch is frequently a struggle for him.

Jane Archibald’s voice has lost some of its brightness of tone since she recorded Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Jérémie Rhorer for Alpha in 2016. It doesn’t help her that much of Cunegonde’s music stays in the very part of her voice which lacks tonal body. She sings the high-flying coloratura bits well enough but essentially the role is too low for her. Barbara Cook was 29 years old when she sang her unforgettable Cunegonde on Broadway. On the recording she sounds like a fresh 19 year old. The New York performance featured television star Kristen Chenoweth, a surprisingly gifted soprano in a superbly zany characterization of the role. Chenowith’s hilarious study of slightly soured innocence makes her the Cunegonde of one’s dreams.

Anne Sofie von Otter has been cast as the Old Lady. In the past she has occasionally taken on a sprinkling of comic roles . In her 2002 album and DVD, Anne Sofie Sings Offenbach, she showed a real adroitness for comic irony and an amusing cheekiness. However, the more broadly comic role of Bernstein’s Old Lady seems to be out of her reach and vocally she too sounds effortful. Irra Petina on the 1956 album remains firmly ensconced in her first place position as the Old Lady. Christa Ludwig was Bernstein’s choice for his 1989 studio recording, also with the London Symphony which followed a concert performance at the Barbican. There she proved to be an utterly adorable Old Lady especially on the corresponding DVD of the live concert where one can enjoy her charming castanet dance in “I Am Easily Assimilated”. In the 2004 concert Broadway star Patti Lupone gives a performance that is rather too glamorous and with a voice that doesn’t meet the demands of the role; the single disappointment on the New York DVD.

So was there anything that I did enjoy on the new SACD? Aside from the sound it would be New Zealander Thomas Atkins’s standout turn as The Governor/Vanderdendur. His two songs make one wish that he had been cast as Candide rather than Capalbo.

To sum up, anyone wanting to hear Candide performed at its very best is advised to stick with the old CBS/Sony original cast recording which while not complete, still provides the most enjoyable listening of all. The complete Bernstein recording for DG in 1989 is also a good option although the live DVD of the full concert is a much livelier affair despite the fact that much of the cast, Bernstein included, were suffering from a virus, the effects of which are audibly noticeable on nearly everyone. To experience Candide at its witty and effervescent best then I advise searching out the 2004 New York Philharmonic DVD. Marin Alsop can be seen clearly enjoying herself and her cast delivered a knockout version of the score. Sadly this new LSO version is merely a disappointing copy of. Those who must have Candide on SACD in full surround sound will no doubt opt for this but they would be missing out on “The Best of All Possible Worlds”.

Mike Parr

Previous review: John Quinn

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