November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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A White House Cantata
(with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner)
 Thomas Hampson; June Anderson; Barbra Hendricks; Kenneth Tarver; London Voices and London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Naganor
 DG 463 448-2 [80:07]
  Amazon UK  Amazon USA


Leonard Bernstein offers a history of the White House without tears. In fact this concert version of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the musical play, "The Show that Got Away" as one observer remarked, is an attractive compendium of vaudeville, formal classical, 19th century dance and West Side Story-like styles. Hopefully, this excellent recording should help to really establish this appealing work for there is much to enjoy in its charting of the activities and personalities of the Presidents and their First Ladies from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt.

Thomas Hampson sings the role of all the Presidents with ironic humour as well as staunch authority. In the opening number, as George Washington he convinces contentious Congressional delegates that the capital city should be set within 'Ten Square Miles of the Potomac River' and almost by accident the capital is named after himself. This is a very witty piece with vaudeville overtones and a catchy march. More wit and fun follow in 'The Thomas Jefferson Sunday Luncheon March'. As James Buchanan, Hampson is stupidly evasive turning from the prospect of Civil War - "Those endless petitions, For guns and munitions, Are driving me up the wall, One would think, we're on the brink! We must have a ball.". Finally he is affectingly noble in the concluding aria as President Theodore Roosevelt singing, "To burn with pride, And not with shame, Each time I hear My country's name… This land needs love To make us proud."

June Anderson is all the First Ladies and she colours her voice according to all their widely differing characters. She shines, as Abigail Adams in her lovely recitative and aria, 'Take Care of this House' as she pleads with the coloured servant, Lud, to watch over the leaky House as it is being built - "…Be always on call, For this house is the hope of us all". As Eliza Monroe, she gently but firmly admonishes her President as they try in vain to sleep worrying over the cares of state. She tartly remarks, "Did reason supply That little white lie…A Negro shall equal three-fifths of a white?…You framed the Constitution, Framed the Blacks!" And in 'Duet for One' she splendidly handles the spiteful catty exchange between warring prospective First Ladies, Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes.

The story also embraces a history of Lud, the black manservant at the White House sung ardently by Kenneth Tarver. To music very reminiscent of the romantic ballads and Latin numbers from West Side Story he sings of his love for 'Seena' and celebrates his, 'Lud's Wedding'. Seena, is sung by Barbara Hendricks. Her big number is 'This Time' in which she eloquently expresses her fears to Lud for his safety because the streets of Washington have become dangerous as Civil War approaches.

Mention must also be made of another great set piece 'Sonatina' with music that is very formal in 18th century classical style for the viewpoint of the British soldiers who occupy the capital during the war of 1812. They pounce on a feast left by the retreating President James Madison and sing their drinking song to the tune of 'The Star-spangled banner' which as the English General Cockburn (a pompous Neil Jenkins), remarks, "Which lately' I am told, These Yanks have plagiarized." Enjoying their feast they rejoice at the sight of the White House in flames "Gaze through the window At the sweetest dish I know Called Washington falmbée". But then a deluge of rain (historically documented) saves day.

A fine entertainment and a firm recommendation.

Ian Lace


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