Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: Candide
3 of 5 stars

Candide – Operetta in two Acts to lyrics by Richard Wilbur with additional contributions by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman and the composer; book by Hugh Wheeler after Voltaire as adapted for the New York Philharmonic by Lonny Price with amendments for this LSO version by Garnett Bruce

Candide – Leonardo Capalbo
Cunégonde – Jane Archibald
The Old Lady – Anne Sofie von Otter
Dr. Pangloss / Narrator – Sir Thomas Allen
Governor and other roles – Thomas Atkins
Maximilian and other roles – Marcus Farnsworth
Paquette – Carmen Artaza

London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop

Recorded 8-9 December 2018 at Barbican Hall, London


Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: October 2021
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO00834 [2 SACDs]
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide contains some very fine music without convincing as operetta or musical. It has been revived theatrically for London audiences with sporadic success, most notably perhaps at the National Theatre (1999) and Menier Chocolate Factory (2013), but it may be that semi-staged renditions like the one immortalised here represent the best way to keep this unclassifiable show on the road. The trend was set by Bernstein’s own Candide project, captured live in the same hall with the same orchestra in 1989 and still available on a Deutsche Grammophon DVD along with its studio-made CD equivalent. This offered more of the score, arguably more successfully structured, than ever before. Then again, Christa Ludwig’s Old Lady apart, its operatic line-up was never likely to eclipse memories of the original, much-abbreviated 1956 cast recording with Robert Rounseville in the title role, Barbara Cook as Cunégonde and Max Adrian as Dr Pangloss. The LP acquired a dedicated cult-following long before the work itself was deemed worthy of revival.

As might be expected from one of his most faithful disciples, Marin Alsop’s musical solutions are not so different from the composer’s own. She has spoken of the show as “an exploration of optimism” yet favours comparably lugubrious tempos that risk removing the bubbles from Candide’s champagne. To be fair she also elicits a wealth of well-shaped, often unsuspected instrumental detail so that Prokofiev and Hindemith join older models in the eclectic brantub. The concluding number involving the entire company, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, is maximally big and powerful.

The edition is different again. Based on Bernstein’s would-be definitive Candide, itself adapted from Scottish Opera’s 1988 staging on which he worked with John Mauceri and John Wells, it arrives further filtered via an evening worked up by Lonny Price for New York Philharmonic performances under Alsop in 2004 and a subsequent rewrite plus directorial retweaking by Garnett Bruce. Possibly because the tone has become more consistently genial and relaxed we lose ‘Nothing More Than This’, one of the tenor’s best (if initially discarded) lyrical numbers. Newly vanished is ‘Quiet’, the neatest tilt at 12-tone orthodoxy outside Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto. Newly present is ‘The Sheep’s Song’ – but why? It was Stephen Sondheim no less who contributed the lyrics of the Seventies’ introductory number ‘Life is Happiness Indeed’ (repurposed from the ‘Venice Gavotte’); its placement still feels odd to devotees of that classic album. Not for the first time, some of the most brilliant original lyrics have been compromised in pursuit of a narrative coherence always just out of reach.

Like Bernstein in later life Alsop opts for operatic casting. Dr Pangloss is played by Sir Thomas Allen who also acquires the lion’s share of the narrative flannel, contextual or would-be sardonic, inexplicably retained from the live event. In his mid-seventies at the time of recording his delivery is generally unforced and avuncular whether spoken or sung, not without a certain Northumbrian tinge. The veteran Adolph Green for Bernstein was altogether edgier and more acerbic. Leonardo Capalbo sings very well indeed as Candide and his diction is excellent even if his timbre is not quite right. He was an excellent Don Carlos for Grange Park Opera in 2019. It’s just hard to imagine him tackling, say, Stravinsky’s Tom Rakewell, a role famously first taken by Rounseville, though he has in fact done so! Naïve vulnerability doesn’t come easily to his heroic voice type.

Cunégonde is not your average Broadway love interest and Jane Archibald exploits her expert coloratura soprano to nail the showstopping ‘Glitter and Be Gay’. I can only report that I found herquality of sound a little mature and her vowels at times discoloured. The old problem perhaps. Once experienced in the role it is difficult to forget a singing actress’s defter mix of innocence and sophistication even when the singing is less than spot on. Grande-dame Anne Sophie von Otter was plainly cast in the hope of recapturing the spirited determination of Christa Ludwig in the Bernstein set yet laughs prove elusive. Positively funereal at first, her big number, ‘I am easily assimilated’ speeds up erratically part way through – unless this is the result of an edit? Her duet with Cunégonde, ‘We Are Women’, elegantly turned by the orchestra, is vocally effortful.

Less established vocal personalities are assigned the smaller roles. Carmen Artaza is a fetching Paquette and Marcus Farnsworth and Thomas Atkins take on multiple characters with some flair. Members of the London Symphony Chorus sound every bit as engaged as their orchestral colleagues and while not wholly natural the recording balance belies the awkward shallowness of the Barbican stage. You may find Thomas Allen’s halo of resonance too much of a good thing. Audience applause and titters are ruthlessly expunged as per LSO Live’s house style, a decision that probably makes the laboured links fall even flatter. The set does come attractively packaged in physical format: a proper cardboard box contains two SACD-encoded discs together with a generous bilingual booklet including the libretto. Worth a punt then but not necessarily the best of all possible Candides.

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