ON THE RECORD: "Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies" and Clownaround

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09 Jun 2013

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This week's column examines conductor John Wilson's salute to "Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies" and the cast album of the long-lost Gene Kelly musical ClownAround.

Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies [EMI Classics]

British conductor John Wilson led a well-received Rodgers and Hammerstein concert as part of the BBC Proms series at Royal Albert Hall August 22, 2010. (This, incidentally, was the day before the fiftieth anniversary of Hammerstein's death). Wilson went into the studio in 2012 — with two of the five Proms soloists — to record most (but not all) of the selections in the concert. The results have now been released by EMI Classics under the title "Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies."

We get fifteen tracks, from the film versions of Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. Everything sounds good, and well played by the large orchestra. Julian Ovenden does an especially fine job singing Billy Bigelow's "Soliloquy" and, with Sierra Boggess, "If I Loved You," which makes one wonder whether Mr. Ovenden might have a Carousel in his future. Ovenden, you may recall, was forced by illness to leave the 2011 New York premiere of Maury Yeston's Death Takes a Holiday. He did, however, play the first press previews, so half of the first night critics (myself included) saw him in the role — and he was impressively good.

Ovenden and Boggess also give us a bit of Curly and Laurey from Oklahoma!, while Joyce DiDonato gives us those two booming songs: "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." Anna-Jane Casey and David Pittsinger offer a few pieces of South Pacific, and the CD pretty much does what it sets out to do.

But I have to wonder: what constitutes Rodgers and Hammerstein "at the movies"? I suppose some listeners will just say the music is good, leave it alone. But as someone who knows the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook exceedingly well, I have to question both the music selections and the choice of arrangements.

Sierra Boggess

First off, let us acknowledge that Rodgers and Hammerstein did indeed spend a good deal of time at the movies, meaning in Hollywood (and briefly in Astoria, New York). To my knowledge, though, they only wrote seven songs as a team for the movies. Two of them are standards: "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and the altogether dandy, "It Might As Well Be Spring." A third, "There's Music in You," is presently being recycled in the new stage version of Cinderella. None of these seven — the only songs that the team wrote for the movies — is included on this CD. The boys each did write, separately, well over a hundred movie songs; but only one of these, Rodgers' "I Have Confidence," is included.

So what we get is show tunes pulled from the boys' greatest successes, performed using the Hollywood orchestrations. I suppose this is what they mean by "at the movies." But why? Does anyone believe that the movie orchestrations are better than, more authentic than, or in some way supplant the stage versions? Rodgers didn't seem to. Certainly, when Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I were revived during his lifetime, he did not insist on replacing the official versions of the songs with the Hollywood improvements.

Compare Russell Bennett's brightly exciting overture for Oklahoma! and his majestic one for The King and I with the versions on this CD and you'll instantly see what's missing, as well as the fallacy of using the movie overtures to represent composer Rodgers.


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