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CD Reviews - 2006


THE VERY BEST OF NAT KING COLE

28 Tracks (Playing Time = 79:50)

Compilation producer: Kevin Flaherty. Mastering: Ron McMaster. Art Direction: Tom Recchion. Design: Paul Moore.

Tracks 2-6 & 13 by The King Cole Trio (Nat King Cole, piano; Oscar Moore, guitar; Johnny Miller, bass)

 

Capitol Records 09463 59324 2 3

Rating: **** (Outstanding)

In 1956 THE NAT KING COLE SHOW premiered on NBC television and became the first network variety show hosted by an Afro-American entertainer. To honor that milestone, this collection has been released.

With 28 tracks, this CD collection has many of Nat's greatest Capitol hits like"Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa,"and "Nature Boy" plus also many other easy going sides, such as "Smile" and the instrumental "Penthouse Serenade."

One of the tracks is from the film, ST. LOUIS BLUES, the Hollywoodized story of W.C. Handy, but earnestly played by Nat King Cole. In that film, Nat sang a song titled, "Morning Star," with music by W.C. Handy and lyrics by M. David. That song is included for the first time on this CD and it's an extremely moving song, sung simply and with great feeling by Nat.

This is one of the best CD collections yet released covering his Capitol years.

Just as the CD title says -- this is "the very best" of Nat King Cole.

-- Roger Hall, Decembr 2006

 


FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL: BROADWAY’S GREATEST LOVE DUETS

15 Tracks (Playing Time = 59:59)

Performances from revival cast recordings of: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1966), GUYS AND DOLLS (1992), OKLAHOMA! (1979), KISMET (1965), SHOW BOAT (1966), CAROUSEL (1965).

Performances from original Broadway cast recordings: TONIGHT (1957), THE MOST HAPPY FELLA (1956-mono), HELLO, DOLLY! (1964), I DO! I DO! (1966), FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1964), PARADE (1999), A NEW BRAIN (1998), BELLS ARE RINGING (1956)

Performances from the studio cast recordings: THE KING AND I (1964)

Reissue produced by Todd Whitelock. Project direction and research by David Foil. Design by Claudia de Almeida. Recordings remastered from original sources using Sony’s Direct Stream Digital system and SBM Direct.

RCA Red Seal 82876-75892-2

Rating: ***1/2 (Very Good)

 

Taking its title from “They Say It’s Wonderful” in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, this latest compilation brings together some of the big love songs of Broadway. The music reaches back to Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin and comes all the way to the end of the last century with PARADE and A NEW BRAIN. The inclusion of those musicals is an odd choice in lieu of the fact that there are no Sondheim songs, or even a Lloyd Webber, included in the bunch. But, this compilation is the result of the recent merger of two catalogues, BMG/RCA and Sony and what appears to have happened is that this time out Sony’s catalogue and technology was transferred onto the sister label in the same way that a recent Hollywood compilation pulled RCA recordings under the Sony Classical label. The sound quality is quite good and equalized to keep each track from showing its age and level problems. It is very dry though overall, typical of these cast recordings generally.

The photo cover hearkens back to the 1950s placing this disc into a marketing bracket decidedly older than the norm these days. In this case, it may be a bit of a mistake since it is not very attractive or eye catching. The music included is really quite remarkable and one could quibble over which version was used. One gets a chance to hear subtle changes in performance styles. The Music Theater of Lincoln Center revivals tend toward a more operatic style but this turns out to be more appropriate given that those selections come from musicals like KISMET, CAROUSEL, and SHOW BOAT.

What can one say except that these are some of Broadway’s greatest songs featuring some of the great artists of the latter 20 th century in classic moments. Highlights will vary depending on one’s personal taste but re-hearing John Rait’s performance of “If I Loved You,” Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert’s “Tonight” duet, or Zero Mostel and Maria Karnilova’s “Do You Love Me?” will bring back memories to those fortunate to have seen these performances.

Highly applaudable is that the back of the CD case details the songs and performers for each track so that there are no mysteries as to what is inside.

A nice disc for those looking for a quick Broadway fix which certainly had room for another fifteen minutes of music.

 

--Steven A. Kennedy , May 2006

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com


LEGENDS OF BROADWAY: ANGELA LANSBURY

Legends of Broadway

 

16 Tracks (Playing Time = 55:46)

Performances from the London revival cast recording of: GYPSY (1973); and

Performances from original Broadway cast recordings: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (1964), MAME (1966), DEAR WORLD (1969), and SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (1979).

Project direction, research, and booklet interview by David Foil. Reissue engineering by Vic Anesini. Art direction and design by sbyram.

Masterworks Broadway 82876-88397-2

Rating: *** (Good)

 

Here is another “synergy” release from the merger of the Sony and BMG catalogues. This time the media giants releasing a series featuring some of Broadway’s big names of the 1960s and 1970s. For those brought up on MURDER SHE WROTE, hearing Angela Lansbury in these signature performances are a great reminder of her amazing range and talent as both actress and vocalist. About all most of the younger generation of music fans will recall of her singing will likely be from children’s fare like BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, or if they managed to catch the superb GREAT PERFORMANCES presentation of SWEENEY TODD on PBS.

The one thing that makes this release unusual is the relative lack of popular Broadway show tunes. Perhaps the most famous is “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from GYPSY, or “If He Walked Into My Life” in MAME. The latter is really among the finest performances of the song. There are five selections taken from SWEENEY TODD which already illustrate the changes to Broadway musicals that was beginning to go on in the mid-1970s. The songs work fine here for the most part but suffer being set apart from the whole in a way that does not really show up as much in the other excerpts. But this is a minor quibble.

The opportunity for a brief survey of a single Broadway artist at the top of her game is on fine display here. Chronologically arranged as well, one gets to hear Lansbury’s voice develop and mature while always being reminded that even in 1964 she was simply beginning to be at the top of her game and it got even better as time went on. The characterizations fill out in amazing ways as well, and the material gets better as well. Even in the repertoire made famous by others, these are uniquely created and shaped performances that Lansbury makes her own.

If you are unfamiliar with the repertoire, or uninterested in picking up complete productions of these shows, this is a perfect release for your collection. The essay/interview features a conversation with Lansbury that covers each of the productions included here and will be of interest to Broadway aficionados as well.

The accompanying booklet is pasted into the cardboard case making it somewhat harder to hold and read. Other releases in the series include performances by Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, and Barbara Cook.

 

--Steven A. Kennedy, December 2006

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 


SOUTH PACIFIC IN CONCERT FROM CARNEGIE HALL

South Pacific in Concert from Carnegie Hall

Music composed by Richard Rodgers/ Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

36 Tracks (Playing Time = 77:52)

Produced by Jay David Saks. Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett. Dance and incidental music arrangements by Trude Rittmann. Concert adaptation by David Ives. Starring Reba McEntire (as Nellie Forbush), Brian Stokes Mitchell (as Emile), and Alec Baldwin (as Luther Billis) and with Lillias White (as Bloody Mary). Also featuring Jason Danieley, Conrad John Schuck, Dylan Baker, Alexio Barboza, Alex De Castro, Renita Croney, Alexander Gemignani, Tom Deckman, and the South Pacific Ensemble. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s conducted by Paul Gemignani. Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York City, Thursday, June 9, 2005. Engineered by Bill King. Location audio engineering by David Hewitt, Daryl Bornstein, Peter Erskine, Phil Gitomer, Rick Jacobsohn, Sean McClintock, Blake Norton, and Chris Peterson. Post production engineering by Ken Hahn. Mixed by Jay David Saks and Ken Hahn at Sync Sound, NY. Art direction by Pat Barry. Art direction and design by Carla Leighton.

Decca Broadway B0006462-02

Rating: **** (Outstanding)

 

Decca records is releasing this live recording from Carnegie Hall in conjunction with the video telecast on PBS in April. No doubt this is one of those special programs that appears during the perennial pledge drives for most PBS stations and is in line with past productions of concert presentations of musicals. In 2002, there had been a presentation of CAROUSEL but it went unrecorded. This production returned to the newly restored original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Trude Rittman. The script was adapted by David Ives for concert presentation. Reba McEntire might seem like an odd choice at first unless one recalls her triumphant performances in Berlin’s ANNIE GET YOUR GUN from the 2001 season. Brian Stokes Mitchell is the current leading Broadway baritone taking on the part made famous by Ezio Pinza. The odd choice may seem to be Alec Baldwin as Luther Billis but it turns out to be a perfect match and makes one think he might consider a turn in GUYS AND DOLLS some time. The rest of the cast pulled together for the program reads like a who’s who of current Broadway talent. The CD, being created live without any overdubbing, means that there is more underscored dialogue than might otherwise appear on a Broadway studio recording. Dialogue segments appear to help propel the story forward as best as can be accomplished. This also means that there is applause audible at the ends of songs and for various character entries.

The orchestrations will be among the most revelatory moments here. Bennett’s ability to create such clear and transparent textures for the songs is something to admire in an age where microphones and sound mixing can overcome any size. When the sound does swell though, it packs an amazing emotional punch made more powerful by the excellent performances here by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. The imaging for the voices against the orchestra is also superb with just enough warmth to enhance the acoustic. Mitchell’s performance of the signature “Some Enchanted Evening” would be a showstopper today by any measure. And as this song does in the show, it leads to several great songs one after the other, performed here excellently by the big names and the lesser known ones with great chorus work throughout. Tempos move along at quite a pace. “Bali Ha’i” seems to be just a tad too fast, though beautifully performed, but that is due more to familiarity with the Hollywood version of this song than with any original authenticity. In the context of this production, everything makes perfect sense. The disc’s first two-thirds is devoted to Act one with the final ten tracks making up the bulk of Act 2’s additional songs andreprises.

What Decca has captured here is a Broadway love affair with one of the best of Rodger and Hammerstein’s many classic shows. Is it any surprise that at the helm is producer Jay David Saks? This is easily another classic recording that will serve as a reminder to all who want a perfect example on how to make a live recording engaging and serve the music as well. Highly recommended to fans of great Broadway music making.

 

--Steven A. Kennedy , April 2006

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 


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