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Bernstein: Wonderful Town (Bonus Track Version)
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Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra pay homage to Leonard Bernstein with a recording of Wonderful Town that captures the energy and excitement of sold-out performances from December 2017. Featuring an all-star cast led by Danielle de Niese and Alysha Umphress, this release coincides with worldwide Bernstein At 100 celebrations marking the centenary of the LSO's former president. Bernstein's five-time Tony award-winning musical follows sisters Ruth and Eileen on their quest to make it big, pursuing careers in writing and acting from their cramped basement apartment in New York's Greenwich Village. Fresh from rural Ohio, the sisters end up getting more than they bargained for, realizing that life in the Big Apple is not as glamorous as it may seem. A bright and cheery love letter to the city that never sleeps and the colorful characters inhabiting it, Wonderful Town draws on Fields and Chodorov's 1940 play My Sister Eileen, which itself is based on a series of autobiographical short stories by the 'real-life' Ruth McKenney. Bernstein's infectious score includes classic numbers such as ''Ohio,'' ''One Hundred Easy Ways,'' and ''A Little Bit in Love,'' as well as a riotous conga that had delighted audiences dancing in the aisles of the Barbican hall.
- Language: : English
- Product Dimensions : 5.67 x 4.96 x 0.24 inches; 3.88 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Harmonia Mundi Fr.
- Original Release Date : 2018
- Date First Available : July 12, 2018
- Label : Harmonia Mundi Fr.
- ASIN : B07DXPPWBM
- Number of discs : 1
- Best Sellers Rank: #141,017 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Reason: first and foremost: the inimitable Rosalind Russell and the music directed by Lehman Engel (dare one guess with LB looking over his shoulder)? They created a magic on that recording which none other can match - and that includes this latest attempt. It goes without saying Roz Russell sets a standard which cannot be equaled let alone be beat. This one's a nice try, but the original cast recording is the one to own and treasure.
The LSO is, in fact, the very best thing about this recording. The LSO adopts the flexible, not too rigid American musical theater style easily, yet also gives diamond-sharp ensemble playing where it's called for, such as in Bernstein's recycling of his "Prelude, Fugue and Riffs" in the 'Conquering New York' number.
The three lead singers are all American, Alysha Umphress as Ruth, Danielle de Niese (strictly speaking, Australian-born, US-raised) as Eileen, and Nathan Gunn as Bob Baker. Umphress is from the world of Broadway, while de Niese and Gunn are from the classical music side. Umphress can certainly do Broadway brassy and outgoing (such as on a video of "I Can Cook, Too", from another Bernstein musical, available on the NYT website with some searching). Yet here, while she sings well, she seems very subdued, as if trying very hard not to be overly brash. She also goes out of her way to seem consciously "stiff" in the sidewalk advertising lyrics for the Village Vortex, in character as Ruth.
Gunn and de Niese also sing well, no big surprises there, given their own individual strong musicianship. Perhaps de Niese doesn't have quite the relaxed charm in 'A Little Bit in Love' like Edie Adams from the original 1950's cast recording, but that is a matter of personal taste. Gunn does the jaded cynicism of Bob Baker's character rather better than Thomas Hampson in the BCMG recording
All the other singers are British, and adopt reasonably decent American accents, including the London Symphony Chorus. However, with the Brit singers, this doesn't always translate to effective characterization. One particular instance is Wreck, sung by Duncan Rock, who doubles as Wreck and the Second Associate Editor. Rock does fine disillusionment in 'What a Waste', but is just too smart-sounding to embody the dumb, if lovable, lug that is Wreck in 'Pass the Football'.
For a recording nominally centered around the live December 2017 concert, the sound and atmosphere have rather little feeling of a live performance, IMHO. This actually hasn't been too surprising, given this similar nature in several LSO Live recordings that this reviewer has heard. This unwittingly comes further into play in the bonus track, a reprise of the Act I-closing 'Conga!', which has audience participation and general raucousness in the background, as well as applause at the end. In all the main numbers, no applause occurs after the end of each number. You can read into that as you see fit.
In sum, as a recording of this score, it's not bad at all. On a technical level, it's actually very good. And, in all honesty, most studio recordings of Broadway shows have that slightly antiseptic "studio" feel, as opposed to hearing that show live in the theater, at least IMHO. It's just that, with a recording that is supposed to be taken from a live performance, this reviewer was hoping for a bit more pizzazz and charge in the singing. Your own opinions will differ, of course. If you want to support the LSO Live label and these artists by purchasing this recording, then certainly have at it.
Overall take on Wonderful Town Recordings: No one should be without one of the Rosalind Russell recordings, I prefer the OBC because I like Edie Adams much more than Jacqueline McKeever as Eileen, but thats a choice. Jay Records version with Karen Mason and Rebecca Luker brilliantly conducted by Johnathan Owens Edwards and note complete is my first choice for a second version, but others might opt for the Cast from the last Broadway Revival with Donna Murphy which is a solid choice. I love the cast on Rattle's EMI version but again his conducting is not to the manner born.
And I cannot understand why pan this one, but I will not ask that either.
Top reviews from other countries
Simon Rattle has recorded and performed this concert version before so has the measure of Bernstein's rhythms off pat.
His Ruth on this occasion is Broadway's Alysha Umphress fresh from her triumph in the 2014 revival of 'On The Town ', another Bernstein show.