MICHEL LEGRAND: “Musicales / Comédies” = The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; Summer of ’42; The Go-Between; Yentl; GERSHWIN: Porgy & Bess; BERNSTEIN: West Side Story; LEGRAND: Donkey Skin; Le Passe Muraille; WEILL: The ThreePenny Opera – Catherine Michel, harp/Grand Orchestre Symphonique of the Brussels Philharmonic/Michel Legrand, arrangements/piano/conductor – Naive K1663 (2 CDs + bound illus. booklet) [Dist. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
We have another categorization problem here. This impressive collection strides over divisions between classical and pop, and the first CD was released originally in 2005, with the second recorded in 2008, almost qualifying for our Reissue Section. Legrand speaks in the notes of not being really aware of the harp as a solo instrument until he met Catherine Michel. After finding she was a brilliant and sensitive virtuoso, he wanted to put her front-and-center via arranging several concerto-like suites from his own music and others. That’s what this compilation brings us.
The new settings of the familiar music sound fresh and exciting, turning the suites of mostly well-known tunes into mini harp concertos. The music of Umbrellas of Cherbourg takes on a new guise and plays on the heartstrings even more than the original score. Legrand’s score for The Go-Between, which wasn’t as familiar to me, also sounded glorious in this new setting. The orchestra is obviously adept at such forays off the beaten classical pathways, and supports the solo harp with great feeling and richness.
The second disc features music from musical comedies written for the stage. Legrand has assembled three composers who are his favorites; he feels he shares with them a clear and sophisticated line. In addition he has arranged two of this own film scores for the harp and orchestra setting. Le Passe Muraille – which closes out the collection – I wasn’t at all familiar with, but it’s definitely echt Legrand. You wouldn’t ordinarily expect music from Weill’s ThreePenny Opera to involve concert harp and orchestra – it would most likely feature a smaller ensemble of brass, accordion, that sort of thing. But it works wonderfully. The set is also beautifully bound with many photos in the booklet, and its vertical size is only slightly more than a standard CD, so hopefully you can still get it to slide into a tight shelf as little as 5½ inches high.
– John Sunier