BERNSTEIN-SONDHEIM: West Side Story – Soloists/ San Francisco Symphony & Chorus/ Michael Tilson Thomas + 100-p. booklet – SFS Media (2 SACDs)

LEONARD BERNSTEIN-STEPHEN SONDHEIM: West Side Story (complete concert performance) – Alexandra Silber – Maria; Cheyenne Jackson – Tony; Jessica Vosk – Anita; Kevin Vortmann, Riff; Julia Bullock, a Girl/ San Francisco Symphony & Chorus/ Michael Tilson Thomas + 100-p. bound booklet – SFS Media multichannel SACD (2) 821936-0059-2, TT: 1:22:51 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

This is the first-ever live concert performance recording of the complete score to the Broadway musical. MTT and the SF Symphony were able for the first time to receive permission from all four of the rights-holders on West Side Story and went ahead and recorded the score in its entirety in June and July of last year. The soloists are mostly a cast of talented Broadway actors and performers, and the large hard-bound book has a historical timeline of the musical, archival photos in both black-and-white and color as well as photos of the rehearsals and performance, plus complete lyrics for everything. MTT’s essay goes into the close connections he had with Leonard Bernstein and his family, as well as the Jewish music and drama connections they shared. There are even articles from Rita Moreno and Jamie, one of Bernstein’s daughters.

Jerome Robbins had the original conception for the musical and he also directed and choreographed the original production. Bernstein’s article in the notes mentions the first concept which involved a love affair between a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy on the East Side. This eventually became the more pertinent Puerto Rican girl and Polish-American boy on the West Side. During the gestation of West Side Story, Bernstein was very busy with the opening of his operetta Candide, and some of the songs written for it eventually showed up in West Side Story instead, including even “Officer Krupke.”

A challenge was faced in the conversion of this score with several dance sequences into a concert performance, but the recording sounds perfectly flowing, and if you want smashing instrumental performances of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story you can find the DGG vinyl or CD of that conducted by Seiji Ozawa, or Bernstein’s own version on Columbia/Sony Classical, which you can even see the video of on YouTube.

Some orchestra musicians would have a difficult time with West Side Story, and the orchestra has a major role in the drama. However, the SF musicians have no such problem and really understand this music. Plus, MTT, with his background, is perfect for bringing everything together properly. He makes the interesting point in his notes that West Side Story isn’t a parody like the Gershwins’ musicals, but more of an operatic piece that takes on serious matters. Speaking of operatic, Bernstein’s own DGG recording of the score in 1984 with Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras was probably the biggest recorded production since its original Broadway album of 1957.  But we fans of West Side Story would like to forget that.

A couple of the voices in this new production do sound quite operatic, but not forced like the 1984 album. Altogether a tremendous new opportunity to hear this vital score performed in a way, as MTT says, to “show the Broadway roots of the piece and how its universal qualities translate into the way we think about it today.” I wish MTT and his SF forces would next turn their attention to Candide. A couple of gripes about this album: there is no listing anywhere of it being two multichannel SACDs, expect for a very tiny and almost invisible SACD logo on the back of the bound book. There is absolutely nothing on the actual hybrid SACDs to indicate they are SACDs. I have no idea whether this is a simple error or a deliberate effort to supposedly improve sales by leaving off any ID of them being SACDs, as used to be done with Dolby Surround and other perfectly compatible processes, which some felt deterred buyers who were worried their equipment wouldn’t play the discs.  My other gripe is probably shared by members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus—who are one of the best choruses around today—yet receive no credit anywhere on the album.

TrackList:

DISC 1 – Act One

1.   Prologue                                                                            3:57
2.   Jet Song (Riff, Jets)                                                        3:37
3.   Something’s Coming (Tony)                                         2:57
      The Dance at the Gym
4.        Blues                                                                             2:16
5.        Promenade                                                                   0:27
6.        Mambo                                                                          2:27
7.        Cha-Cha                                                                        0:47
8.        Meeting Scene (Tony, Maria)                                  1:51
9.        Jump                                                                              0:58
10.  Maria (Tony)                                                                    2:47
11.  Balcony Scene, Tonight  (Tony, Maria)                      1:40
12.  Only You  (Tony, Maria)                                                6:01
13.  America  (Anita, Rosalia, Shark Girls)                       5:19
14.  Cool (Riff, Jets)                                                                 4:25
15.  One Hand, One Heart  (Tony, Maria)                         5:34
16.  Tonight (Riff, Bernardo, Anita, Tony, Maria, Sharks, Jets)  3:51
17.  The Rumble                                                                         3:09

DISC 2 – Act Two

1.    I Feel Pretty (Maria, Francisca, Rosalia, Consuelo)  4:14
       Ballet Sequence
2.         Allegro agitato                                                              0:41
3.         Lo stesso tempo (Tony, Maria)                                  0:35
4.         Adagio                                                                             0:34
5.         Scherzo                                                                             1:29
6.         Somewhere (A Girl)                                                       2:27
7.         Procession & Nightmare  (Entire Company)           2:17
8.         Adagio                                                                              1:29
9.   Gee, Officer Krupke (Jets)                                                  5:00
10.  A Boy Like That (Anita, Maria)                                        2:30
11.  I Have a Love (Maria, Anita)                                            3:30
12.  Change of Scene                                                                   0:29
13.  Jukebox, Taunting Scene                                                    2:26
14.  Finale (Maria, Tony)                                                           2:49

—John Sunier        

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