Bernstein

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bernstein
LABELS: SFS Media
ALBUM TITLE: Bernstein: West Side Story
WORKS: West Side Story
PERFORMER: Cheyenne Jackson, Alexandra Silber, Jessica Vosk, Kevin Vortmann, Kelly Markgrad, David Michael Laffey, Juliana Hansen, Louise Marie Cornillez, Zachary Ford, Cassie Simon, Justin Keyes, Chris Meissner, Louis Pardo, Michael Taylor, Julia Bullock; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: SFS0059 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Leonard Bernstein’s 1957 musical, West Side Story, is one of his most perfect scores: effortlessly tuneful, sharply characterised, subtly integrated and successful in reconciling exuberant dance numbers with the tragic story-line of its source, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Michael Tilson Thomas’s new recording with his San Francisco forces does it justice by including the complete score (omitting only some instrumental reprises covering scene changes or accompanying dialogue); some spoken cues are incorporated where required by the context.

Compared to Bernstein’s own 1984 recording, which notoriously features mature opera singers in the lead roles, Tilson Thomas’s version scores heavily with its casting of the appealingly youthful-sounding Cheyenne Jackson as Tony and Alexandra Silber as Maria. Both the touching Silber and the feisty Jessica Vosk as Anita successfully suggest Puerto Rican accents without parody. While most of the cast comes from the world of musical theatre, Julia Bullock brings a more operatic tone to her fine singing of ‘Somewhere’. The chorus convincingly represents the warring street gangs. The orchestra swings like the biggest of big bands, with a driving kit drummer and some spectacular trumpet playing.

Just one grumble. The vivid recording was assembled from a run of live concert performances, yet the only audible audience reaction is some mild amusement at the witty text in ‘America’. The performance deserves, and demands, tumultuous applause.

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Anthony Burton