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: