John McGlinn

The Very Best of Broadway

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The Very Best of Broadway is not a comprehensive survey of the field -- it has some significant gaps, most notably the absence of anything by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and its most recent selection is from 1957, so there is no music by Stephen Sondheim -- but it is a fitting tribute to the work of conductor John McGlinn, who died around the time of its 2009 release. McGlinn performed an incalculable service to the history of American musical theater, particularly its early works, in restoring their scores to a state as close to the creators' intent as possible. About three-quarters of this two-disc set is devoted to the work of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, and Kern, and there are one or two selections each by Youmans, Rodgers, Weill, Loewe, and Bernstein. McGlinn has frequently been criticized for using opera singers in this repertoire. In these selections, singers both from the world of opera and musical theater are featured. The results on both fronts are mixed, but overall, this is a delightful album, particularly the music from the earlier musicals, including the works by Gershwin and Porter, and especially Kern's Show Boat. In that show, Frederica von Stade and Teresa Stratas effectively make the crossover to Broadway, and secondary singers Bruce Hubbard, Karla Burns, and Robert Nichols are fabulous in bringing the drama to life. Thomas Hampson is the most prominently featured opera star, and his contribution is inconsistent. His polished, operatic delivery works beautifully in Kiss Me, Kate, where over-the-top theatricality is just what the role requires, but Annie Get Your Gun demands an easygoing delivery that just isn't Hampson's style. Broadway veteran Kim Criswell sings on many tracks, with plenty of flair and panache; she doesn't erase the memory of Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley, but who could? The performances of selections from Weill's Knickerbocker Holiday and Bernstein's West Side Story are mediocre, at best, but it's easy to overlook (or skip over) those tracks, given the high quality of most of the rest. The sound is clean, pleasant, and atmospheric throughout. It's a joy to hear the felicitous details of orchestration so distinctly, something that wasn't so possible on the original soundtracks of most of these scores, given the technology available at the time.

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