Classical CD Reviews

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN: At the Movies = Oklahoma! Overture; 2 Songs; Carousel: Waltz; 4 Songs; South Pacific: 3 Songs; The King and I: Overture; The Sound of Music: Main Title and Preludium; 2 Songs -Soloists/ Maida Vale Singers/John Wilson Orchestra – EMI Classics

An effective and lushly-mounted tribute to a winning combination of the American musical theater, and the melodies never quit.

Published on April 17, 2013

RODGERS and HAMMERSTEIN: At the Movies = Oklahoma! Overture; 2 Songs; Carousel: Waltz; 4 Songs; South Pacific: 3 Songs; The King and I: Overture; The Sound of Music: Main Title and Preludium; 2 Songs – Sierra Boggess/ Anna-Jane Casey/ Joyce DiDonato/ Maria Ewing/ Julian Ovenden/ David Pittsinger Maida Vale Singers/John Wilson Orchestra/ John Wilson – EMI Classics 3 19301 2, 75:22 ****:

The history of American musical theater owes much to the talents of the likes of Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, and Oscar Hammerstein, who converted former minstrel-show and vaudeville comedies into serious dramatic art, often communicating substantial social messages. Conductor and editor John Wilson has assembled a powerful, eminently melodious conglomeration of Rodgers (1902-1979) and Hammerstein (1895-1960), extending from their 1955 Oklahoma! to the 1958 South Pacific, to their final collaboration, The Sound of Music (1965), the themes derived from the film scores. Occasionally, the arrangement lingers a bit long, as in the symphonic epilogue to “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” but the singers bring a distinctive and clear passion to Hammerstein’s often brilliant lyrics.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein neo-classic “formula” permitted the musical episodes to evolve directly from the story line, so the “musical play” came to parallel in musical theater what Wagner and Verdi’s dismissal of “number pieces” accomplished for opera. A song like “Soliloquy” from Carousel, beginning as a speculation on the birth of a son, Bill, transforms to an equally potent lyric on the possibility that the unborn child might be a girl. Julian Ovenden’s performance captures the manly assertiveness and sense of responsibility that parenthood entails.

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from South Pacific stands in a direct line to the Gershwin tradition in operetta, equally brazen and rhythmically alert. Anna-Jane Casey makes the song as much a feminine conspiracy as it is a “revenge aria.” The musical transport from middle America to the exotic winds of “Bali Ha’i” is accomplished – via the talent of Maria Ewing and the Maida Vale Singers – with a suave finesse that proves as seamless as it harmonically captivating. No less “oriental,” the Overture to The King and I projects a world of color within an essentially salon concept. I can recall both Ezio Pinza and Paul Robeson’s versions of “Some Enchanted Evening,” each a marvel of nuanced diction and sensual appeal; here, David Pittsinger adds his own special basso to the fantasy, “laughing across a crowded room.”

Conductor Wilson opens with his own edition of the Overture and Main Title from Oklahoma!, from the arrangement by Adolph Deutsche. Wilson’s orchestra leans into the medley with vibrating string work, a lush sound that takes Stokowski as a model. Yet, Wilson rarely descends into maudlin sentimentality, rather attempting to bind Rodgers’ scores to the likes of Lehar and Offenbach. The last three selections, from The Sound of Music, make their own coda, as splashy and extroverted as American optimism can get. The Main Title incorporates “The Hills are Alive,” “Do, a Deer,” and “My Favorite Things” with an especial panache. For the added aria, “I Have Confidence,” here sung by Sierra Boggess, Rodgers supplied his own lyrics. Does Ms. Boggess consciously try to emulate Julie Andrews? If so, her model is a good one. “Show them I’m worthy,” she intones. Boggess proves equally effective in her duets, particularly ‘If I Loved You,” with Julian Overdon. Joyce DiDonato and the Maida Vale Singers end with the ever-inspired “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a Hollywood spectacular on its own terms. Find your dream.

Rather an aggravation, the EMI disc contains neither individual timings for the songs nor for the album as a whole.

—Gary Lemco




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