Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
Leonard Bernstein only wrote four Broadway musicals in his career, and all four already have widely available symphonic recordings to complement their various stage cast recordings and film and television soundtracks. What need could there possibly be for new recordings of any of these scores in 2014? The new symphonic recording of West Side Story from the San Francisco Symphony, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, makes such questions irrelevant by sheer force of artistry. (We’ll revisit this question in the fall when the 2014 revival cast recording of On The Town debuts.)
The liner notes for this album stake its uniqueness on it being the only live, symphonic, nearly-complete recording of the Broadway version of the score, but the hair splitting requited for that distinction to mean anything likely doesn’t matter to most listeners. What does matter is this: it’s the entire show, including all dance music (but thankfully excluding most scene change music, bows, and exit music), played by world-class musicians utilizing the excellent original Broadway orchestrations. Unlike the dreadfully operatic symphonic recording conducted by Bernstein himself back in the 80s (starring Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras), this recording features appropriate tempi, an orchestra that knows how to swing when necessary, and most importantly, a cast of singing actors from the world of Broadway who understand the idiom for which the music was intended. Continue reading