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Leonard Bernstein Conducts West Side Story…

Leonard Bernstein Conducts West Side Story [1985 Studio Recording] (1985)

by Leonard Bernstein (Composer), Arthur Laurents (Librettist), Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim (Lyricist)

Other authors: José Carreras (Performer), Marilyn Horne (Performer), Kurt Ollman (Performer), Kiri Te Kanawa (Performer), Tatiana Troyanos (Performer)

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Leonard Bernstein (1908–1990)

West Side Story

Based on a conception by Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Orchestration by Leonard Bernstein with Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal

CD 1:
[1] No. 1 Prologue (Instrumental)
[2] No. 2 Jet Song (Riff and Jets)
[3] No. 3 Something’s Coming (Tony)
No. 4 The Dance at the Gym (Instrumental)
[4] Blues
[5] Promenade
[6] Mambo
[7] Cha-Cha
[8] Meeting Scene (Tony and Maria)
[9] Jump
[10] No. 5 Maria (Tony)
[11] No. 6 Balcony Scene (Tony and Maria)
[12] No. 7 America (Anita, Rosalia and Girls)
[13] No. 8 Cool (Riff and Jets)
[14] No. 9 One Hand, One Heart (Tony and Maria)
[15] No. 10 Tonight (Ensemble)
[16] No. 11 The Rumble (Instrumental)

CD 2:
[1] No. 12 I Feel Pretty (Maria and Girls)
[2] No. 13 Ballet Sequence (beginning) (Tony and Maria)
[3] Transition to Scherzo (Instrumental)
[4] Scherzo (Instrumental)
[5] Somewhere (A Girl)
[6] Procession and Nightmare (Entire Company)
[7] No. 14 Gee, Officer Krupke (Jets)
[8] No. 15 A Boy Like That (Anita and Maria)
[9] I Have Love (Maria and Anita)
[10] No. 16 Taunting Scene (Instrumental)
[11] No. 17 Finale (Maria and Tony)
Symphonic Suite from the film “On the Waterfront”
[12] Andante (with dignity) – Presto barbaro
[13] Adagio – Allegro molto agitato – Alla breve (Poco più mosso) – Presto come prima
[14] Andante largamente – More flowing – Lento
[15] Moving forward – Largamente – Andante come prima
[16] Allegro non troppo, molto marcato – Poco più sostenuto
[17] a tempo (Poco più sostenuto)

Maria – Kiri Te Kanawa
Tony – José Carreras
Anita – Tatiana Troyanos
Riff – Kurt Ollmann
and Marilyn Horne singing “Somewhere”

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (CD 2: 12–17)
Orchestra and Chorus conducted by
Leonard Bernstein

Recorded: May 1981, Frederic R. Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv (Live); September 1984, RCA Studio, New York City (West Side Story).

Deutsche Grammophon, 1985. 2 CD. TT 50'08+48'16. Liner notes by Leonard Bernstein, David Patrick Stearns and Peter Gradenwitz. Full libretto (Eng+Ger+Fr).


Flawed but fascinating

As the only complete recording of West Side Story conducted by the composer, this 1984 DG production is of course self-recommended. Though already in his mid-sixties, Lenny obviously hadn't lost sense for the exuberant vitality of his then nearly thirty-years-old masterpiece. This is a vibrant, exhilarating, sensuous orchestral performance, recorded in a very fine digital sound. The singing is for the most part excellent, too. But...

But there is one problem and it's a serious one. The two principals are hardly right for their parts. Both sound far too operatic, for one thing. And both sound appallingly bland, too. It's difficult to believe there's anything like a passionate romance between them, especially one of the Romeo-and-Juliet type. At a few places Carreras also seems to have mild vocal problems; his wobble, already quite present even in the mid-1980s, can be very irritating. Kiri Te Kanawa has a lovely voice – but is she dramatically dull!

To make matters worse, the dialogues between Tony and Maria are recorded by Bernstein's own children. Nothing's very much wrong with nepotism per se, but the youngsters are even duller – indeed way duller! – that the considerably older operatic stars. The vocal disappointments also extend, somewhat surprisingly, to Marylin Horne; her rendition of "Somewhere" is just vapid. At least Tatiana Troyanos (Anita) and Kurt Ollmann (Riff) manage their parts with distinction.

Nevertheless, this is a fine recording of more than mere historical interest. The time has passed – hopefully – when musicals were degraded as inferior to opera, so by now the masterpiece nature West Side Story should be in need of no defence. Despite a host of problems with the vocal parts, none of them is entirely disappointing, the principals included. For anybody interested in Lenny's output as a composer, and for any fan of the genre, it's a must-have.

As a special bonus, the edition is handsomely presented in a double box with two booklets. There is, of course, a full libretto in three languages (English, German, French) and plenty of photos (portraits of the singers or Lenny, moments from the recording sessions, etc.). There are also two excellent essays, one by Lenny himself charmingly written as a diary and following the long and complex history of composition, and one by a writer (whose name I forgot) who deals with the great historical importance of West Side Story as a bridge between musical and opera, its remarkable thematic unity and its masterful characterization. Brief synopsis indicating the music numbers is also provided; very helpful for newcomers.

Totally worth having even at full price.

PS As a special bonus, the second disc includes a stunning live performance of Lenny’s score (the best parts of it anyway) for the gritty drama On the Waterfront (1954), a legendary film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando that received eight Academy awards and four nominations (one of them for Best Music). ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Sep 30, 2015 |
This was a studio recording designed to bring out the opera in the musical. Kiri te Kanawa and Jose Carreras are given the singing roles of the star-crossed lovers and they sound as good as you would expect. Opera is used to the suspension of disbelief, and the cover picture showing the two singers has them looking like the worried parents of Tony and Maria rather than the kids themselves. The decision, I suppose to avoid the 'Dick van Dyke effect', to have Nina and Alexander Bernstein do the spoken dialogue does emphasise the separation of song from speech and is a touch infelicitous, but, hey!, Lennie wrote the thing so why can't he include the family?

The un-named orchestra and chorus do a good job under Bernstein's baton and the whole production sounds fine, but it is a bit of a mongrel. Bernstein, whatever aspirations he might have had, wrote a musical (with one of the best musical librettists around) and I think the whole thing makes more sense produced as such. Go for the original stage cast recording, or even the film, even if Natalie Wood doesn't sing a note. ( )
  theabbottsmusick | Jun 13, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernstein, LeonardComposerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laurents, ArthurLibrettistmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Robbins, Jeromemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Sondheim, StephenLyricistmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Carreras, JoséPerformersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Horne, MarilynPerformersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ollman, KurtPerformersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Te Kanawa, KiriPerformersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Troyanos, TatianaPerformersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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