Fans of the Phantom would be exceedingly happy with this new 25th anniversary cast recording of the fabled Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, taken from the live Albert Hall anniversary concerts. Unlike the venerable West End cast album with Brightman and Crawford, this 2-disc set of the musical presents the complete score with an abbreviated finale. The performances are as good as any, and worthy of the occasion, but the presentation on CD is let down by the poor recording quality.
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess are superb in the two principal roles. Karimloo's Phantom allows us listeners to hear the character change in his voice. He seduces Christine in the first act but becomes more tortured and obsessed by her as the musical progresses. Sierra Boggess is a superb Christine with such a beautiful soprano voice. I didn't quite feel taken by Hadley Fraser's portrayal of Raoul because it did sound arrogant and not quite committed to Christine in the manner of, for instance, Steve Barton or Michael Ball. The supporting cast is just as good as the principals, especially Wendy Ferguson in her comic portrayal of Carlotta and Gareth Snook and Barry James in the flustered comic roles of the managers.
The sound quality on this CD release is not really up to scratch. It tends to be muddy in passages of dialogue, such as during the Prologue. Also in loud parts I notice that the sound does not spread. In short, the sound is quite boxed-in, and doesn't offer an enveloping, theatrical feel. I notice the same issue with the current release of the West End cast album, because that tends to sound boxy too and not up to the sound of the recent Lloyd Webber cast album remasters. (I hope that Lord Lloyd-Webber and the Really Useful Group can take a hint and remaster the London album again to improve the sound and achieve more.) I'm not suggesting that engineers should master this disc with Loudness War techniques, but clarity in recordings can be an issue for listeners like me. Taking the case of the 2010 live UK tour recording of Les Mis that cast album had better sound quality than this. It was punchy in loud passages and there was more spread of sound.
Some people have mentioned that the finale with Brightman and the four Phantoms was cut. I won't dwell on that. Rather, it would have been good if the CD omitted Lord Lloyd-Webber's speech and cut straight to the finale, just like the CD of the Les Mis Albert Hall anniversary concert. Also, it would have been good to have had more cue points on the CD. I mention this for the other Lloyd Webber musicals too. In the case of the Phantom the Hannibal and Il Muto sequences (and also Carlotta's rendition of Think of Me) could have been presented as separate tracks.
In short, this performance of the musical is as superb as ever, only to be ruined by the CD presentation, but at least it satisfies the Phans who would like a complete official English cast album of the musical. Maybe one could consider getting the DVD or Blu-Ray releases as well to obtain an improved sound quality for this performance I'm not implying that we should avoid this disc like the plague. I'm only saying that the sound engineering and recording could have been so much better.
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