At first glance this is an unprepossessing physical object - a cardboard cover in shades of brown and yellow suggests some worthy but dull addition to the musicals completistís CD collection. However, inset this disc into your CD player and you will discover the hidden joy that is this re-released original Broadway cast recording.
Iím no technical expert and therefore I was expecting that a re-mastering from the original 1964 tapes would show some signs of ageing and degradation. On the contrary, the sound quality is as crisp and clear as anything Iíve heard - better than some modern recordings. The depth of audio picture is brought out clearly in the range of sound from the haunting clarity of the keynote violin solo that opens the show to the well-balanced definition of the orchestration in the "Wedding Dance"; where both the piercing clarinet solo rises above the orchestra and the pizzicato double-bass underpins and supports the overall sound.
The transparency of this transfer means that subtle aspects of the castís vocal performance also come through clearly - such as the moment when Bert Convy as Perchik reaches slightly for a triumphant note in "Now I have everything".
Hearing Zero Mostel as Tevye for the first time is an exhilarating and energising experience. He brings a warmth, arrogance and humour to the part that casts Topolís subsequent and possibly more widely-known interpretation into the shade. Mostel also does a piercingly accurate chicken impression in "If I were a Rich Man".
The whole cast has a vibrant energy that comes from casting actors who can sing, rather than singers who can act. Special mention must go to Julia Migenes who sings Hodelís "Far from the home I love" with the same clarity and tone as Dawn Upshaw (one of the few singers who can sing "musicals" songs effectively). At the other end of the musical scale Maria Karnilova achieves the difficult task of making Golde, a screechy harridan role, pleasant to listen to without losing any of her strident characterisation. I was taken aback by the strength of feeling evoked by her duet "Do you love me?" sung with Zero Mostel.
For the first time I heard the gradual transition between traditional Jewish humour and slightly anachronistic New York Jewish sassiness. For me, the show "Fiddler on the Roof" had become familiar and stale through over-use, especially after the badly-paced film version, but this recording makes everything fresh, funny and poignant again.
The generous bonus tracks are taken from a 1971 recording at the YMCA of "An evening with Sheldon Harnick" and a 2003 "Interview with Sheldon Harnick". Here the lyricist entertainingly explains the origin of some of the numbers and the reasons for dropping others. The tongue-in-cheek "When Messiah comes" has the wit and irreverence of a Tom Lehrer number - the audienceís shrieks and gasps suggest they were right to drop this number as it may well have been more than a 1960ís audience were prepared for. With hindsight of course, it doesnít have the same tone as a "Fiddler" song.
Hearing Harnick singing "If I were a Rich Man" shows how the basic wit and structure were always there, but also how much more Mostel was able to build on that foundation.
I was also interested and entertained by the anecdotes of the social and political background to the production - something which the comprehensive liner notes by Steven Suskin also add to without duplicating. It is a salutary reminder that in 1964 McCarthyism wasnít that far behind Americans and anything outside the range of white-bread America was viewed with suspicion.
Overall the extras are more than just curiosities; in their own right, they are worth listening to more than once.
This CD then, is an enjoyable and worthwhile addition to any musicalsí fanís collection.