Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra pay homage to former LSO President Leonard Bernstein with a new recording of Wonderful Town that captures the energy and excitement of sold-out performances from December 2017.
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 bohemian Greenwich Village. Fresh from rural Ohio, the sisters end up getting more than they bargained for, realising that life in the Big Apple is not as glamourous as it may seem.
A bright and cheery love letter to the city that never sleeps and the colourful 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 storied 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.
Total time: 01:13:56
Classic Sound Ltd.
|Original Recording Format|
Classic Sound Ltd.
Barbican, London England
|Recording Type & Bit Rate|
|Release Date||September 7, 2018|
Leonard Bernstein made his debut with the LSO in 1966 and made several appearances with them subsequently, including the famous 1973 live recording in Ely Cathedral of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. The relationship grew particularly close in the last years of his life and in 1987 Lenny was invited to become President of the LSO – only the fourth time such a title had been bestowed; he held that title until his death. So, it was fitting that the orchestra paid tribute to him right at the start of the Bernstein centenary year (which officially began on what would have been his 99th birthday in August 2017.) They did so with a pair of concerts at the Barbican which included a concert performance of Wonderful Town.
Rattle has history with Wonderful Town and clearly loves the show. The LSO benefit from the presence of some necessary guests, among them Matthew Skelton playing the drum kit and no less than seven saxophonists. The orchestrations are feisty and colourful and the LSO delivers them with zest and zing. You can tell we’re in for a great evening when the Overture strikes up and within a minute or so those fantastic reeds are smooching through the melody of ‘Ohio’.
The LSO really delivers throughout the performance. They are stylish and, where required, edgy in the vocal numbers and come into their own in such numbers as the Overture and the Entr’acte (both of which are pots-pourri of the best tunes). The playing in ‘Conquering New York’, with its self-quotations from Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (1949) is taut and vital. In the Jazz Age tribute, ‘Swing!’ the players really sound to be having a ball, while ‘Ballet at the Village Vortex’ features some wonderful bluesy clarinet playing from Andrew Marriner and his colleagues.
Presiding over this musical party is Sir Simon Rattle and he does a fine job, keeping the performance taut, while judging expertly the moments when he needs to loosen the reins in order to let everyone have their head. The fact that this is the third time he’s recorded this show speaks volumes. He obviously loves the score and he ensures it’s put across with energy and pizzazz.
I like the sound that Classic Sound have produced for this recording. It’s close enough to let the music – and the performance – have a proper impact but there’s also sufficient sense of the span of the Barbican stage, I think, especially in the big numbers.
At the end of the performance there is an encore. Danielle de Niese leads a mass Conga round the auditorium. Bizarrely, the encore is included on the DSD download version of this recording, but not on the SACD. I wonder why: there would have been room.
This is a cracking release from Simon Rattle and the LSO. Wonderful Town is, if I may borrow and adapt words from the earlier Bernstein/Comden/Green collaboration, a helluva show about a helluva town. And it gets a helluva performance here. It’s a significant centenary tribute to Lenny.
Wonderful Town is an unqualified, uncomplicated delight. This is the hour-long concert version, which sacrifices narrative continuity to preserve the best numbers in Bernstein’s score. Though no stage director was credited, there was a theatrical framework of sorts, including a conga that embroiled most of the London Symphony Chorus in the fun.
Rattle’s performance had just the right brassy pizzazz, with a cast led by the irrepressible Alysha Umphress as Ruth and Danielle de Niese as Eileen, the two sisters who arrive from Ohio determined to launch their careers; Nathan Gunn, David Butt Philip and Duncan Rock took smaller roles, all slick and nonchalantly brilliant.
Classical CD Choice
The performance has exactly the right infusion of theatrical vividness.
Already the second strongest contribution to this year of Bernstein.
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