Bernstein: West Side Story

COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Bernstein
WORKS: West Side Story
PERFORMER: Hayley Westenra, Vittorio Grigolo, Connie Fisher, Melanie Marshall; Royal Liverpool PO/Nick Ingman
CATALOGUE NO: 173 3909
New Zealander Hayley Westenra and Italian Vittorio Grigolo give this 50th-anniversary recording of West Side Story a good start with the right mix of youthful leads. Grigolo unveils a robust, refreshingly lyrical and well tuned light tenor in ‘Something’s Coming’, while Westenra is suitably engaging in ‘I Feel Pretty’. Yet Grigolo is too operatically stylised in ‘Maria’, and neither really suggests either passionate involvement with each other or the toughness of life on New York’s West Side. Nor, indeed, does Connie Fisher, imported from British reality television’s Sound of Music to sing ‘Somewhere’. The most compellingly authentic sound comes from Will Martin as Riff. There’s piquancy and fun in the comedy numbers ‘America’ and ‘Gee Officer Krupke’, and under Nick Ingman the orchestral playing of the RLPO offers a commendably strong beat and incisive rhythms in the Prologue, Blues and Mambo. Elsewhere the playing sounds laboured at times, and it’s impossible to avoid the impression of a sequence of musical numbers lacking real integration.

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This CD is fit to stand alongside the operatically overburdened 1985 version with Carreras and Te Kanawa under Bernstein. However, neither has the impact of Jay Records’ imposing and ultra-complete 1997 compilation. Moreover, the reality is that no modern version has yet managed to match the youthful bite, ensemble and sheer theatricality of either the 1961 film version or, more particularly, the original 1957 Broadway cast version, now impressively refurbished by Sony. Andrew Lamb