6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Certainly grows on the listener.,
This review is from: Martin Guerre (1999 UK Tour Cast) (Audio CD)
Martin Guerre has had a long and troubled saga, not to mention far under-recorded, and this album is not quite the end result of that. Essentially, Boublil & Schönberg's 4th musical (after La Revolution Francaise, Les Miserables, and Miss Saigon) was not initially successful in London (we'll call this version 1.0). It was reworked, and debuted again to critical acclaim. A single-disc highlights version of the show was made during the transition to version 2.0. It's a great CD, but rather rare. A "Making of" video was also recorded, with the intent of releasing a film of version 2.0, but the video was only released in the UK, and the film never came about. The show was further revised before it closed in London, which we'll call version 3.0.
Stephen Clark had been reworking Edward Hardy's lyrics for versions 2.0 and 3.0, and when a re-envisioning of Martin Guerre came about for a UK tour, he rewrote the entire libretto dramatically, removing all of Hardy's material. The orchestra was scaled down severely, the orchestrations totally rethought, and everything generally remade for a smaller version of the musical. This is version 4.0, and was recorded for this album. Further revisions were made for the American tour, version 5.0, and it's unfortunate that some of them were never recorded--most of the lyrics that are not satisfactory in version 4.0 are quite excellent in 5.0.
So, on to the album itself. I'd just like to say that it does a magnificent job of telling the story of Martin Guerre without the full score present--better, I'd say, than the Original London Cast album. It also has a very distinct feel to it that will grow on you as you listen to it.
As for the songs themselves, the best of the lot lyrically are probably "I'm Martin Guerre," "God's Anger," "The Revelation," "Who?," "The Imposter is Here," and "Justice Will Be Done." Some songs are particularly ineffective, such as the first part of "The Deluge" (until it is a pre-prise of "God's Anger") and "The Day Has Come" (after Bertrande's solo beginning). They do convey the story concepts...just not particularly well.
The music of Martin Guerre is great. Even in this simplified, synth-heavy version, it comes through loud and clear. There's a bit of a heavy sound to the music, but it does fit in with the peasant theme of the show. Do I consider it Schönberg's finest composition? In many places, I do prefer Les Miz for his music, I'll admit. Still, there are moments when the score just works beautifully (listen to the lines "...Yes! I'm Martin Guerre! For they will learn when I return that I belong!" for an example) in this album. The orchestrations were a lot grander in the 1996 album, but you can still appreciate Schönberg's genius on the 1999 recording.
Then there's the best reason of all to buy the album: the cast. Stephen Weller is an excellent Martin Guerre, particularly in the title song. His command of the part is certainly commendable. Likewise, Matthew Cammelle likewise makes a great Arnaud du Thil, bringing life to the part, working well with Weller's Martin and with Joanna Riding's Bertrande. Speaking of Joanna Riding's Bertrande, listen to her solo portion in "The Day Has Come"...what a performance! Her voice has a sort of imperfect-yet-better-than-perfect quality that comes off with incredible honesty. The fourth central character, Guillaume, is played admirably by Maurice Clarke. Clarke occasionally sounds like the role's London originator, Jerome Pradon, but the more you listen to his performance, the more its individual nuances stick--the tone of his voice in parts just sounds perfect for the role. Having listened to clips of the American production, I can honestly say I wish the chorus had not been tacked on to the end of "Justice Will Be Done" so that Clarke could've finished the song with flair (as Pradon did with its predecessor "I Will Make You Proud" in the 1996 OLC). The ensemble has a similarly appropriate flair to it, and someone looking for a really great cast on a cast album shouldn't pass up this recording of Martin Guerre.
In total, I don't think that this album is the equal to its 1996 predecessor, simply because the structure and lyrics for the new version of the show were not yet as refined as they would be--and, as such, there are some definite rough spots. However, on the whole the album is pretty dang good. Although unfortunately just a highlights disc, this is the version of Martin Guerre that is out there right now, and anyone interested will be best off picking up this album. Unfortunately, the show has yet to reach Broadway--until then, albums are all that American fans really have, and this album is just about it. Certainly, if you're a fan of Boublil and Schönberg, pick this CD up. Don't be turned away by the horror stories from die-hard OLC fans--it's considerably better than many will admit.