Bernstein: Candide - Alsop
LSO Live LSO0834 (2 discs)
Classical - Opera
Leonardo Capalbo (Candide)
Jane Archibald (Cunégonde)
Anne Sofie von Otter (The Old Lady)
Sir Thomas Allen (Dr Pangloss, Narrator)
Guildhall School Young Artists
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop (conductor)
Marin Alsop leads the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a new recording of Bernstein’s riotous satirical operetta 'Candide'.
Made almost three decades after the composer's own iconic recording with the Orchestra, Alsop's new version was captured during celebratory concerts marking Bernstein's centenary year, and features an outstanding array of soloists, including Leonardo Capalbo (Candide), Jane Archibald (Cunégonde), Anne Sofie von Otter (The Old Lady) and Sir Thomas Allen (Dr Pangloss, Narrator).
With lyrical contributions from acerbic writers Richard Wilbur, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, and a young Stephen Sondheim, 'Candide' marries raucous humour with the extraordinary genius of Leonard Bernstein.
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Review by Graham Williams - October 12, 2021
Like the eponymous hero of Voltaire’s 1759 picaresque novella on which it is based, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide has had a chequered existence since it was first conceived by the composer and the playwright Lillian Hellman in 1954. Over the years, the original brilliant libretto by Richard Wilbur has received additional contributions from other lyricists including Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, John Wells and Bernstein himself, and the work has been re-worked and staged in many different versions by several distinguished directors. Turning it into an entirely manageable piece of theatre has too often proved to be an insurmountable challenge, so a concert performance, or as here a semi-staged version, has often proved to be the most satisfactory solution.
Bernstein recorded Candide with the LSO and a superb cast in 1989 in what he considered to be the definitive version of the piece and it is still available on both DVD and CD. This new recording from LSO Live was made in the Barbican at concerts given on December 8 & 9, 2018 to mark the composer’s centenary year. It is the first to be available on SACD (recorded in DSD128fs) with the narration in English and for that reason alone is most welcome.
Bernstein called the piece a Valentine card to European music and few would argue that it contains some of his finest and most infectious tunes. As a Bernstein protégé and long time champion of his music Marin Alsop directs an incisive performance of the score and elicits playing from the LSO that is both sensitive in the lyrical passages and full of rhythmic verve and virtuosic elan elsewhere.
The casting of the main roles here is very good indeed. Sir Thomas Allen (doubling as Dr. Pangloss and Narrator) is impressive in both the clarity of his delivery, vocalisation andsuitably avuncular tone. The Canadian soprano Jane Archibald as Cunegonde is also well cast and delivers the Act 1 hit number “Glitter and be Gay” with style and complete vocal assurance (this will come as no surprise to those who have heard her outstanding Zerbinetta in the opera house). The Candide of Leonardo Capalbo is personable and warm toned, though his singing of ‘Candide’s Lament’ sounds rather forced and possibly a little too operatic in timbre. Anne Sofie von Otter might be considered by some as a surprising choice for the role of The Old Lady but though she sings ‘I Am Easily Assimilated’ most beautifully she does not efface memories of the incomparable Christa Ludwig on Bernstein’s own recording. Thomas Atkins and Marcus Farnsworth make the most of their multiple roles, as do the young artists from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, while the LSO Chorus sing with palpable enthusiasm.
No doubt much of the spoken dialogue and various narrations produced some laughs in the actual concerts, but here, with the excision of any audible trace of an audience being present, they appear long winded and fall embarrassingly flat. Further, as this performance is based on the 2004 Lonny Price production for the New York Philharmonic, we lose a couple of numbers in Act 2 (‘Quiet’ and ‘Martin’s Laughing Song’) both of which are included on the composer’s own recording.
The two-disc set is handsomely presented and includes a lavish 86 page booklet with synopsis, libretto and photographs of the production. But though there is much enjoyment to be had from this set no one should be without the composer’s own recording that still remains a first choice.
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