Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies (CD review)

Sierra Boggess, Anna-Jane Casey, Joyce DiDonato, Maria Ewing, Julian Ovenden, David Pittsinger, the Maida Vale Singer; John Wilson, The John Wilson Orchestra. EMI 50999 3 19301 2 3.

Music composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) were among the most influential writing teams in Broadway musical history, producing five shows in the 1940’s and 50’s that were not only stage hits but movie hits as well: Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. In 2010 at the BBC Proms, The John Wilson Orchestra performed selections from the Rodgers and Hammerstein playbook to outstanding success; the present album is an outgrowth of that success, fifteen tracks from the five movie musicals, using the original or reconstructed motion picture orchestrations for each tune. With an all-star cast of performers doing the solos, the album can hardly miss.

The program begins with the Overture/Main Title, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma, the latter two items sung by English stage actor and singer Julian Ovenden, joined by American actress and singer Sierra Boggess in the second. Conductor John Wilson maintains a jaunty pace, with plenty of verve and excitement to the music, and the singers are splendid.

Next come five tracks from Carousel, starting with “The Carousel Waltz,” the orchestra sounding very big and positive and lilting yet displaying a heady forward pulse. After that are “If I Loved You,” with Ms. Boggess again and Ovenden; “June Is Busting Out All Over,” with American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and the Maida Vale Singers; “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” again with Ms. DiDonato; and “Soliloquy,” with Ovenden. Ms. Boggess’s voice is charming, and Ms. DiDonato’s operatic voice is particularly persuasive.

South Pacific gets three tracks: “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” with English singer, dancer, and stage actress Anna-Jane Casey and the Maida Vale Singers; “Bali Ha’i,” with American opera singer and actress Maria Ewing and the Maida Vale Singers; and a medley of “Twin Soliloquies,” “Unspoken Thoughts,” and “Some Enchanted Evening,” with Ms. Casey and stage, concert, and operatic bass-baritone David Pittsinger. Ms. Ewing is excellent; Ms. Casey seems not only a case of perfect casting but typical of the kind of Broadway bravura audiences expect; and Mr. Pittsinger’s voice is appropriately commanding.

For unknown reasons, the album includes only one number from The King and I: the Overture.  Fortunately, Wilson and his orchestra play it well, and the music contains most of the familiar melodies.

The program concludes with three tracks from The Sound of Music: the Main Title and Preludium; “I Have Confidence,” with Sierra Boggess; and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” with Joyce DiDonato and the Maida Vale Singers. All of the voices seem well suited to their roles, and even the most fastidious fans of these movie musicals will enjoy how the various performers render anew the music and songs.

EMI recorded the music at Abbey Road Studios, London, and Chapman Recording and Mastering, Kansas, in 2012. The sound they obtained spreads out very wide across the speakers, with something of an exaggerated sectional effect. It makes for a spectacular presentation but not necessarily a very realistic one. As in the case with most soundtracks (even though this isn’t one), the sound has little depth and appears rather compartmentalized. The overall tone, though, is warm and smooth, with decent detailing, modestly firm definition, and stable transient impact. It seems about what I would imagine most fans want from movie and stage sound.

The package includes an excellent set of booklet notes and illustrations that provides most of the information you could possibly want to know about the composers and their music. With one exception: I couldn’t find any track times. It seems an odd omission, maybe an oversight.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa