Friday, December 18, 2009

Bernstein - Wonderful Town - Sir Simon Rattle

Bernstein - Wonderful Town - Sir Simon Rattle
Opera | Eac, flac, cue | log, cover | 1 CD, 358 MB
November 28, 2005 | Emi | RapidShare

The first thing anyone needs to know about Wonderful Town is that it had more false starts than potential titles. The second is that every composer from Burton Lane to Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were rumoured to be writing the score. The third is that Leroy Anderson did write the score (and what wouldn't we give to hear that) but nobody liked it. Nobody that mattered, that is: namely the producers, and star, Rosalind Russell. Enter Leonard Bernstein and his lyricists from On the Town, Betty Cornden and Adolph Green -and this is the last and most crucial thing you need to know - with just five weeks to go before first previews. So Wonderful Town was written fast -very fast. And that's what makes it zing.

So before handing out any bouquets for this spirited rendition from Rattle and Company, I have a confession to make. Before listening, I took out the Original Broadway Cast album on Sony and joined sisters Ruth and Eileen on their First outing in New York City. And maybe that was a mistake. Because if there's one thing EMI's new recording doesn't quite deliver, it's that burning sense of the imperative, of being a part of something that's been caught on the hop, as it were. Into the Overture with Rattle and you've a trrific band - the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with key brass and sax personnel bumped in from the West End - and great attitude, trumpets with the throttle full out and a bevy of saxes licking everyone into shape. But Recording Wonderful Town - Check out the tempo of the Original Cast album and it's faster, tighter - not much, but enough to sound wired, enough to sound like there's no time to lose. And that's the spirit of Wonderful Town. It's NYC in the fast lane; it's crude and sassy with plenty of grime in the mix: the pollution is all part of its charm. So maybe what I'm trying to say here is that Rattle and Co are too clean: tourists as opposed to natives of the show. But, hey, they didn't live through the re-writes and the 18-hour rehearsal days, did they?
So, accept the fact that this is a pristine Wonderful Town, temporarily divorced from its smart book (Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov), out of context, and, to some extent, out of its element, and you'll have a good time. The score's the thing here, after all, and no one in the Original Broadway Cast can come within spitting distance of the vocal talent Rattle and EMI have assembled. Kim Criswell's Ruth has to live with Rosalind Russell's keys - somewhere in the bass-baritone range (I barely recognized her on the bottom line of 'Ohio'). Russell had about three notes in her voice, and they were dubious. Criswell has them all but doesn't have too much occasion to use them - particularly in the highbelt region where she's used to nailing them. So she works the lyric of 'One Hundred Easy Ways' a little harder than Russell (this is the number that establishes Ruth's smart mind and even smarter mouth) a piranha, if you like, to Russell's shark. When Russell growls '98 ways to go!' she's flashing a fin above the water-line. When Criswell yells 'Last one in is a rotten egg!', her little sharp teeth go to work on your ear-drum.

Sister Eileen is Audra McDonald - dream casting for just about everything right now. What to say about someone who uses every part of her versatile voice, wrapping it round a lyric like the two are inseparable, who sings 'A Little Bit in Love' with such contentment that it's as if she's giving herself a big, well-deserved hug. It's a gorgeous voice and the microphone loves her. It loves Thomas Hampson, too, though he will never quite erradicate the 'formality' from his delivery: it's just there in the voice. Though I've rarely heard him sound quite so unassuming as he does here imagining his 'Quiet Girl'. I know how much trouble EMI had casting the role of Wreck. Brent Barrett sounds as though he's still in his prime as opposed to 'football professional out of season'. More a will-be than a has-been. But now I'm really quibbling.

So how about the big set-pieces? Well, 'Conversation Piece', as deadly a dinner-party as ever took to the stage, sounds as if it could have been lifted from a performance of the show. You have to love the composer for having Eileen bring the melody of 'A little bit in love' to the table; and as for Ruth's vain attempt to raise the tone with a reference to Mob3' Dick 'It's about this whale ...' not even Russell left you quite as sure as does Criswell that she's probably seen the movie but definitely never read the book. 'Swing!' comes off less well, partly because (and again this is about context - or the lack of) Criswell is too 'hip to begin with. Ruth's clumsy jive-talking only really heats up when the village kids get in on the action. And that's quite a stretch for Simon Halsey's London Voices. They do well shucking the English choral tradition. Now and again you catch it, but not long enough for it to get in the way. 'Conga!' sounds sufficiently inebriated and they sound right at home on 'Christopher Street'.
You get slightly more Wonderful Town for your money with Rattle (a couple of reprises for a start). Don Walker's feisty orchestrations (with assistance from Sid Ramin, by the way, EM!) get more of an airing with the addition of 'Conquering New York', a dance number which amply demonstrates how ready Lenny was to raid his bottom drawer: it's quite a surprise hearing the Benny Goodman-inspired Prelude, Fugue and Riffs coming to the rescue. ES

Bernstein Wonderful Town.
Kim Criswell (sop) Ruth;
Audra McDonald (sop) Eileen;
Thomas Hampson (bar) Baker;
Brent Barrett (sngr) Wreck;
Rodney Gilfry (bar) Guide, First Editor, Frank;
Carl Daymond (bar) Second Editor, Chick Clark;
Timothy Robinson (ten) Lonigan;
Michael Dore (bass) First Man, Cadet, Third Cop, Villager;
Lynton Atkinson (ten) Second Man, Second Cop;
Simone Sauphanor (sngr) First Girl;
Melanie Marshall (mez) Second Girl;
Kimberly Cobb (sngr) Violet;
Robert Fardell (sngr) First Cop;
London Voices;
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group!

Sir Simon Rattle.


  1. this is a marvelous score that has been recorded MANY times through the years. There have even been TWO original cast recordings of the new recent productions on Broadway. I was always curious about this one, even though I generally shy away from operatic reproductions of stage musicals. The presence of Audra McDonald is a sure-fire way to get ME to listen!! Thanks!

  2. Dear Scoredaddy. Thank you for your comment. I believe the other day I read that you were forced to stop your blog? What a pity...



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