Directed by Michael Tilson Thomas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas had a long-standing professional and personal relationship with “West Side Story” composer Leonard Bernstein making the June 10, 2014 release of the live recording of the first-ever concert performance of Mr. Bernstein’s complete score for the iconic musical quite significant. Equally significant is the recording itself. Mr. Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony not only do justice to the score but excel beyond any expectation at providing the most accessible and enjoyable recording of the iconic musical since its Broadway staging and subsequent recordings.
The overall quality of this live recording is excellent and invites recurrent listening. The CDs received excellent engineering support resulting in a recording of the highest quality. This is a set to own and enjoy for years.
Cheyenne Jackson (Tony), Alexandra Silber (Maria), Jessica Vosk (Anita), Julia Bullock (A Girl), and Kevin Vortmann (Riff) lead the all-star soloists who, along with the Symphony Chorus, bring to Bernstein’s score a renewed vitality and authenticity which attest in a dramatic way to the enduring nature of the score of this iconic musical.
Because this is a studio recording, the tone of the performances is necessarily more precise and more polished than a live stage performance. Much of the “feel” of the streets and neighborhoods of the feuding gangs is evident; however, many of the chorus numbers have an appropriate operatic color and disposition.
Act I tracks that are impressive are: Tony’s “Something’s Coming;” the “Dance at the Gym/Meeting Scene;” Tony and Maria’s “Balcony Scene” and the following “Only You;” and Rosalia (Juliana Hansen) and Anita’s impeccably authentic “America” are particularly memorable. “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight” close out Act I with emotional integrity and power.
In Act II, the “Ballet Sequence/Lo Stesso Tempo,” the “Procession and Nightmare,” and “I Have A Love” emerge as tracks of superior performance. And even lacking a visual presence, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Silber create impressive images in their vocal renditions in the “Finale.”
This San Francisco Symphony recording of “West Side Story” is a gift of enduring love and craft for all who hold the musical in a special place in memory and heart. It is a must-have for musical theatre lovers.