0 of 5 stars

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Curley McLain – Gordon MacRae
Laurey Williams – Shirley Jones
Aunt Eller Murphy – Charlotte Greenwood
Ado Annie Carnes – Gloria Grahame
Will Parker – Gene Nelson
Jud Fry – Rod Steiger
Ali Hakim – Eddie Albert
Andrew Carnes – James Whitmore
Ike Skidmore – J C Flippen

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: December 2001
CD No: Angel CDC 5 27350 2

Oklahoma! is one of three MGM musicals that have recently been transferred to CD on the Angel label. The Broadway production opened in 1943, during the blackest years of the Second World War, and must have been a welcome ’feel good’ tonic for the theatre-going population. Rodgers and Hammerstein closely guarded the film rights, not wanting to devalue what was already an incredibly successful project, but, in 1954, this changed.

This “Original film master” presented here is taken from a combination of the film session recordings (1954) and the original soundtrack album released on Capitol Records in 1955. Extra music from the film soundtrack together with alternative takes from the 1955 cast recording add an additional 30 minutes of previously unreleased material.This includes a delightful ballet movement based on ’Many a New Day’ and a 14-minute sequence from ’Out of my dreams’ that re-presents many previously heard themes; diverse orchestrations abound, including a ’honky-tonk’ piano. In the film this surreal episode accompanies a nightmare that Annie has when she sees Jud killing Curly (Jud’s rival for Annie’s affections).

The early 1950s was a worrying time for Hollywood filmmakers as the growth of Television was thought to spell doom for the cinema. Production companies opted for larger-scale movies with elaborate sound systems in order to differentiate themselves from the competition. Oklahoma! was a milestone as it was the first film to use the “Todd-AO” system, which provided a wider vista with six-channel true stereophonic-sound capabilities. In fact, the sound recording team, led by Fred Hynes, won an Oscar in 1955 for “Best Sound Recording”. The mixing-down of the six channels to a mere two clearly demonstrates the expertise of the original engineers with balance as good as we’d expect on any modern recording. Some of the ’effects’ sound a little contrived to modern ears, in particular in ’The Surrey with the Fringe on Top’, the voices are so definitely split left, right and centre, but, as a product of its time, the original stereo works very well.

As mentioned in the superb booklet notes, some slight tape hiss remains. Usually I prefer a little noise to loosing the treble through excessive re-mastering; ’Pore Jud is Daid’ uses various voices – as they are faded one to the other the hiss moves across the soundscape to each voice in turn. This is somewhat distracting; it’s a pity that something wasn’t done to improve this as part of a skilfully crafted transfer.

The show’s original conductor, Jay Blackton, led the film score; Robert Russell Bennett revised his original orchestrations to accommodate the greater forces at his disposal. Bennett could teach modern orchestrators a thing or two. His scoring puts flesh upon the skeleton provided by Richard Rodgers, conjuring an ever-realistic picture of the rugged west at the turn of the last century.

Rodgers & Hammerstein had an almost unprecedented role in the production of the film and this CD gives us those wonderful “standards” in what must be as close to their original conception as you can get. There are many superb performances – from Gloria Grahame as that girl that just ’Cain’t Say No’ to Shirley Jones who was the first, and only, artist to be retained under contract by R & H. As a “Bonus Track” the LP version of the original overture provides an interesting insight into the subtle change of emphasis between the film and stage productions, in particular the segue to ’Oh what a beautiful morning’.

This is a fine addition to what is a quite small collection of complete recordings of Oklahoma! – its melodies as fresh and delightful as they were fifty years ago.

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