Pearl seem to be taking the genre of Broadway quite seriously,
for they have produced Music from the New York Stage ( 4 vols.), Broadway
through the Gramophone (4 double vols.) and now this Ultimate series.
This particular volume of the Ultimate series covers Rodgers' middle period.
In the Thirties, both Rodgers and Hart were fortunate in being in the right
place at the right time: the musicals were in their heyday and Rodgers' and
Hart's careers were greatly helped by association with America's motion picture
industry. By now, the studios had realised the potential of the talkies as a
vehicle for bringing well-choreographed musicals to a wider audience. By keeping
an eye on the Broadway scene lavish studio productions were created and this
catapulted some rather average shows into stardom (as well as their creators
with lucrative returns).
Richard Rodgers might have been little more than a small
time song composer/pianist and band arranger of modest musicals if the talkies
hadn't been around to spring him to fame. Rodgers nurtured his association with
the film industry, and this brought about wider exposure to his music, even
after Hart had died in 1943. This important foundation led to the popularisation
of the Rodgers and Hammerstein II collaboration of the Fifties with their world-wide
fame. Rodgers followed Gershwin, Kern and Porter with stage-works and was equally
at home with both conventional and blues styles of composition. Waltz tunes
secured a place in the dance halls and further helped promote his musicals.
The period of this disc covers the narrow span of the Rodgers
and Hart portfolio (between 1939 and 1942) when they were producing musicals
in quick succession. The disc also contains film music of two titles, which
appeared after Hart's untimely death due to alcoholism at the age of 48 years.
A number of the musical titles will be unknown to the reader but some tracks
are still well known and have stood the test of time. (This Can't be Love
from Up and Doing is one of them.) I should have been interested to read
more about the length of the Broadway runs (to give a measure of the popularity)
— Pal Joey's run was short when compared alongside By Jupiter
and A Connecticut Yankee, yet is the best remembered today. Of Pal
Joey's thirteen numbers only a dialogue scene represents the production
here, taken from an actual performance. What happened to I could write a
Book and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, which have been twice
Victor, Columbia and Capitol record companies were active in
recording new shows, with Victor and Columbia having followed the Broadway scene
since 1910 (see Pearl's Broadway of the Gramophone series of 4 double
volumes reviewed elsewhere on the site). The records are ones issued as original
cast recordings. Of the singers, Gene Kelly and Doris Day are most memorable
to my generation, but listen also to the velvety rendering of Nothing but
You from Higher and Higher (tk10) by the relaxed Shirley Ross. Doris
Day's warm singing in With a Song in my Heart is sadly ruined by a garish
If asked to summarise Rodgers' music one would consider it
melodious, without complexity nor much underscoring, and predictable orchestral
decoration by the brass between the lyrics. He doesn't seem to explore variations
with the strings to change the texture of a piece. String accompaniment generally
follows the vocal line and although the music has immediate mental access, for
me too many playings can become quickly monotonous. Those pieces that allow
a good singer to communicate their character are often more effective.
As expected from this label, Pearl has done a good job with
their transfers from clean record copies. The equalisation is good. Some wow
on tk12 must have been present when cutting and fortunately is confined to the
woodwind and does not affect the voice. The CD notes are adequate though yet
more detail about recording venues, orchestras and their conductors would have
been welcomed. We are not told whether all available recordings of each musical
have been traced and included on this disc because I might have expected more
than one representation from Pal Joey and By Jupiter.