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on 17 May 2010
A more than five star cast with one huge flaw. So why not five stars? - one reason only and that's Zeta Jones (for her alone I would maybe offer 2 stars - it's at least in tune). Listen to "You Must Meet my Wife" to get a flavour of this most unsubtle and vulgar performance. What a shame given the superb Angela Lansbury (Liaisons is like a masterpiece in how to add character and twinkling humour to a simple song) and the rest of the cast - just give "A Weekend in the Country" a try for depth, humour, individual voices all perfectly tuned to their roles. Aaron Lazar's "In Praise of Women" is fabulous, Alexander Hanson is great in the opening trio and "Every Day a Little Death" gives us a taste of what Erin Davie would have been as a great Desiree - this is such thoughtful and intelligent singing. Plus the band is tight and brilliantly directed. This is a fantastic overall performance and the sound has a great theatrical atmosphere, from the very opening Overture through to the curtain, but Zeta Jones is just hopelessly miscast - "Send in the Clowns" is a disaster. Having seen the National Theatre Production I just kept remembering the perfect Judi Dench who knew exactly how to perform this most important of roles and finally I understood Send in the Clowns as such a powerful and desperately sad lament to missed opportunities.
Maybe Desiree was better on stage, but for repeated listening I would still chose this recording and just skip all of Zeta Jones numbers.
By the way this is already on Spotify so you can try it in full before splashing out what seems an exhorbitant price for what should really only be 1 CD.
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2010
There have been six recordings of "A Little Night Music" that I can recall: the Original Broadway Cast (Columbia); the Original London Cast (RCA Victor); the Film Soundtrack (Columbia); a Studio Cast recording based on the Chichester Production (TER/Jay); the Royal National Theatre Cast (Tring); and this new Broadway Cast (Nonesuch/PS Classics). Of these, the Film Soundtrack and the Royal National Theatre Cast recording are not currently available. Of the available recordings, the Original Broadway and London Casts use Jonathan Tunick's wonderful orchestrations. That does not, however, rule out those using reduced orchestrations. Both the TER/Jay and this one do not present undernourished performances.

For me, the essentials in making a good recording of this show are an engaging Desiree, a dashing Frederik and a commanding Madame Armfeldt. Desiree has to give us a moving "Send in the Clowns" and pass the test of "The Glamorous Life". Frederik has to be commanding in the "Now, Later, Soon" trio and appealing in the rest of his songs. Madame Armfeldt has to convince us in "Liaisons" and bolster "The Glamourous Life" with her contribution.

On this new recording, Catherine Zeta-Jones is sadly disappointing as Desiree. Her dialogue where we hear it convinces, Her "Send in the Clowns" is strongly sung but it doesn't tear your heart to shreds as Glynis Johns, Sian Phillips and Judi Dench do in their recordings. She falls at the hurdle of "The Glamorous Life". If the actress manages the cross rhythms correctly, a wealth of illuminating sub-text emerges in lines like "I'm performing in Rotvik and don't ask where is it please". This is sadly not the case here and the number comes across as unfunny and the weakest in the show. Listen to how much more entertaining this song is with Mesdames Johns, Phillips and Dench in the driving seat.

As Frederik, Alexander Hanson is ideal casting. As recorded, he does sometimes stretch his timing and stricter adherence to Mr Sondheim's score might be better but he manages to sound young enough to captivate Anne and old enough to fascinate Desiree and always sounds romantically appealing.

Where Madame Armfeldt is concerned, there is the matter of "Liaisons", a "handbag" moment with the ghost of the wonderful Hermione Gingold to eradicate. Gingold was perfect casting for this role, imperious, haughty, totally convincing as a courtesan who had captivated most of the European aristocracy in her day. Angela Lansbury is a very different Madame Armfeldt, gentler and quietly intent on improving her granddaughter's upbringing. Her contribution to "The Glamorous Life" is valuable but it does not, unfortunately, stop it sinking beneath Zeta-Jones' heavy handedness. She makes "Liasions" work in a totally different way from Gingold but her greatest contributions to the new recording come with the snippets of dialogue we are allowed to hear on disc for the first time. Hugh Wheeler's book is extremely witty and Madame Armfeldt is blessed with a lot of very funny lines and Angela Lansbury makes the most of all of them. She also manages to break your heart with her dialogue on "A Wooden Ring".

The performances of the rest of the cast are important too but, if these first three parts aren't played well, the piece won't work as it should. On this new recording, we have a good Henrik, a slightly shrill Anne and a Petra who makes very heavy weather of "The Miller's Son", which simply fails to soar into flight. The Count and Countess are played well although it is only right to point out that Diana Rigg made a shining contribution to the Film Soundtrack recording and that Maria Aitken (RCA Victor), Patricia Hodge (Tring) and Susan Hampshire (TER/Jay) provide deep insight into this lady's character. The role of Count Carl-Magnus is sung extremely well on all the recordings. The quintet are probably best on the Original Broadway and London Cast recordings, with the Broadway Cast winning points with a particularly memorable "Remember".

So, you want a CD of this score, which do you buy? Here is a summary of the strengths and weakness of all.

The Original Broadway Cast (Columbia) is the safest all round recommendation. Not everyone likes Glynis Johns but her limited vocal ability is in rhythm, on pitch and very moving. This recording also has "Night Waltz II" and, as a bonus track, Chloe Franks' performance of"The Glamorous Life" from the film.

The Original London Cast (RCA Victor) isn't quite as good. Joss Ackland was wonderful on stage but his singing was the least of his performance and that is what the CD highlights. Jeam Simmons sounds very like Zeta-Jones in her performances of "The Glamorous Life", and "Send in the Clowns" with the same results. Diane Langton gives one of the best performances of "The Miller's Son" on record.

The Film Soundtrack recording (Columbia) has never been available on CD. It has Diana Rigg and a new version of "The Glamorous Life" which is included on the Original Broadway Cast CD as an extra.

The Studio Cast from TER/Jay is probably the finest all round performance from a singing point of view. Janis Kelly is magnificient as Anne. Sian Phillips is very good as Desiree. Elizabeth Welch as Madame Armfeldt gives a gentle "Liaisons" but does not get quite to the heart of the matter. The reduced orchestrations do not detract and we get the whole of the overture. This is the only recording to do this. Not even the two disc version of the new Broadway Cast does this.

Then there is the Royal National Theatre recording (Tring), sadly and criminally, no longer available. Judi Dench does not describe herself as a singer but she admits to knowing how to put a song over. Her "Send in the Clowns" is heart-wrenching but the sub-text she provides every times she opens her mouth adds enormously to our understanding of Desiree. Sian Phillips provides an intelligent reading of Madae Armfeldt and it would have been good to have heard more of her had space permitted. This recording has several surprising little bonuses. At the director's request, Stephen Sondheim combined the film versions "Glamorous Life' with the original and the result is wonderful. Mr Sondheim also allowed the insertion of a verse of "My Husband, the Pig!" to be inserted into "In Praise of Women". Patricia Hodge makes a tremendous job of this and makes you wonder why it didn't resurface in the new production. We also get to hear the musical interlude "The Dinner table", another nice addition. As Anne, Joana Riding does border on the shrill but her performance does make it very easy to distinguish between Anne and Petra, which makes "A Weekend in the Country" easiker to follow.

Finally, there is this new one. I will admit that, despite all I have said against it, I wouldn't want to be without it! Every time I have played it, I have always enjoyed it but I, generally, enjoy the five recordings available on CD more overall.

So which do you buy? If the Royal National Theatre recording were available, this would be my first recommendation and I'd still urge you to seek it out used through Amazon's sellers. If this isn't viable, my next choice would be the Original Broadway Cast with Glynis Johns and Hermione Gingold. In third place, because of the all round high quality of the singing, would be the TER/Jay Studio Cast Recording. This new recording and the Original London Cast also have some very strong plus points. How many recordings of this wonderful score do you want?
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on 16 June 2010
Judging from the many reviews I have read about this new recording, I was a little dubious about purchasing it. Being a longtime admirer of Stephen Sondheim, this CD was in danger of being the only missing one in my vast CD collection. I have seen this production both at the Chocolate Factory and on Broadway and was not entirely satisfied with either. In London, Hannah Waddington was way too young to be playing a slightly "over the hill" actress and the production was spare and gloomy. On Broadway, it was better, smarter and brighter, but offered an unnecessarily excessive performance from Angela Lansbury but a masterful turn by Alexander Hanson. I knew that Catherine Zeta Jones was not performing that week, so a suitably consistent and serviceable performance from the understudy was offered.
What made me buy this CD set in the end was the promise of plenty of dialogue from Hugh Wheeler's delicious book. Putting in choice dialogue has created a lovely construction to the musical flow of this masterwork. For once "Send in the Clowns" actually makes sense having opening dialogue and Fredrik's speech in the middle and now this "oh so famous" song becomes so interwoven with the complete work. (The only other time it has been recorded with Fredrik's dialogue is featured on the "Hey, Mr Producer!" live tribute to Cameron Mackintosh CD set & DVD- this being my absolute favourite rendition performed by the peerless Judi Dench and featuring David Kernan as Fredrik).
Generally the performances are noticeably better on the recording than I remember in the theatre. Lansbury has toned down her enthusiasm and has all the best dialogue to relish and Hanson has recreated his immaculate Fredrik. The ensemble and supporting actors have tightened up their accents with more consistent performances.
This brings me to the central performance of Catherine Zeta Jones. There are reasons why she was cast in this role- the first probably being her ability to the bring in the crowds to a show which the majority of theatre goers are unlikely to make their first choice. She does have certain character and acting traits which could be well employed in this role, and in theory I admit she seemed to be a potentially sound choice. In reality as shown on this recording, unfortunately for me, she is not the success as hoped.
I do find her performance at times brash and little contrived and her heavyweight approach is at odds with the delicacy of the whole production. Her singing voice is certainly sufficient but without any real charisma. She does have moments but on the whole an uneven performance.
The orchestrations are what they are: simple, effective and delightful. Yes we would all love to hear the full original lush Tunick version but Sondheim's work is brilliant enough to withstand smaller more intimate arrangements.
What is interesting about every cast recording of this show is that they all offer something which makes them worth having and to make the perfect recording you would need to pick and choose from every version to create the definitive one . But for me the ultimate recording is the RNT 1995 production with Judi Dench featuring a combined "Glamorous Life" from stage and screen and the wonderful "My Husband the Pig" and it is such a shame it is not available anymore. It is in dire need of a re-release. Having said that, this new recording is not to be dismissed- it has many plusses which make it worthy of a place in the Sondheim canon.
Despite a Tony win or two, the show closes this weekend, June 20th and reopens in July with Broadway legends Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.... "peculiar" casting as Madam Armfeldt might remark.... I will watch with interest and have every intention of seeing the show again! If it is a huge success, PS Classics are the sort of dedicated music company that might release yet another recording of this superb show ( just as they did with Grey Gardens and Sondheim's Bounce/Road Show) and we will be debating the merits of that version before long...
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on 22 October 2010
This is more like a radio broadcast of the show than a cast recording. Yards of dialogue between and within the numbers, splitting them up so that they are unlistenable as individual songs.

Alexander Hanson is too lightweight - the role needs a baritone, not a tenor - and tends to speak-sing au Rex Harrison. Catherine Zeta-Jones "acts" too much. Angela Lansbury and the other members of the cast tend towards the strident. The band is very small, and the orchestral sound is disappointing in contrast to the original and National Theatre cast recordings (although the latter features an excruciatingly sharp Anne Egermann in "Soon").

I saw the show in New York and thought it rather vulgar, whereas it should be rather elegant.

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on 29 December 2014
Another brilliant musical revival of another amazing Stephen Sondheim musical I was overjoyed with the quality Angela Lansbury is a brilliant Madame armfeld and Catherine zeta- jones and Alexander Hanson where a fantastic Frederick and Desiree it was really speedy delivery Sondheim has done it again he really is the master of the great white way ( Broadway).
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on 31 August 2010
Why have I bought this 2-cd-set? Perhaps wishing a complete version of the miraculous Sondheim musical. Unfortunately I was unaware that this version has new orchestral arrangements; if I did notice it I would have lived better without it. Broadway musicals belong to their composers AND to their original orchestrators. Yes, indeed, and I am `'right'' saying so. I would like to ask Maestro Sondheim why he has allowed this version - I cannot think he has permitted it to increase his bank account in order to be able to live with no problems. This cast (what's la Lansbury doing here?!) gives no thrills, no emotion, only providing the usual Broadway ability. The famous Lied (you know which I refer to) seems a pop song, and other moments are `coherent' on this line. The singing is often awfully boring and irritating.The original Broadway cast album is the real thing to be loved and cherished. This new thing is to be forgotten and if it is not a really dismal failure, it is a complete disappointment. Broadway (I saw musical numbers from the Tony Awards shows of these recent years) is now offering horrible musicals, and what is worse, Broadway seems now to have the task of destroying its masterpieces of the past - I wonder if you bought the cd with the Broadway revival of Styne's BELLS ARE RINGING - roba da pattumiera, amici miei.
Ernesto Oppicelli - Genova/Italy
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on 29 December 2012
Very different to the show I saw in London a while back but it was still able to bring back the memories...
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on 22 August 2010
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