This week's column discusses the Masterworks Broadway reissues of the original cast albums of two landmark Stephen Sondheim-Hal Prince musicals, Sweeney Todd
and Merrily We Roll Along
*** SWEENEY TODD
[Masterworks Broadway 82876-68639]
If forced to name my most-frequently-listened-to Sondheim recording, I suppose it would be a tossup between Company
and A Little Night Music
. If asked for my favorite Sondheim musical, or my favorite recording of my favorite Sondheim musical, or my favorite recording of any musical of the 1970s, or the 1980s of 90s – well, need I go on? With the merger of the old Columbia and RCA catalogues, the new Masterworks Broadway label has seen fit to give us remastered versions of the Sondheim original cast albums originally released by RCA. (Company
and A Little Night Music
received similar treatment in 1998, from what was then Sony Broadway.)
So here we have the original Broadway cast album of Sondheim's 1979 masterpiece, or masterwork if you will. I needn't praise Sweeney Todd
at this point in time; it is to be assumed that most readers of this column are already familiar with the score. There might well be a few who know the show only from more recent recordings, such as John Doyle's Tony Award-winning revival or the Patti LuPone/Philharmonic version. To those of you I say, yes, you really ought to add the original to your collection; there is nothing, in my opinion, like it. The performances, by Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou, Edmund Lyndeck, Victor Garber, Ken Jennings, are astoundingly good. The playing of the 26 piece pit orchestra (augmented by 14 for the recording) — under the direction of Paul Gemignani, with composer Sondheim and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick in close attendance — cannot be bettered.
It is easy enough to say that this new Sweeney Todd
is unquestionably recommended to anyone who does not already have the recording. The question at hand, I suppose, is whether those who already have the first CD release of this album ought to run out and buy the new one. My answer is a resounding yes (unless Sweeney
for some reason sits on your shelf unplayed). Digital remastering can be a tricky game, sure. The 1990 CD is more than satisfactory, but this enhanced one is — not surprisingly — brighter and clearer. Felicitous touches in Tunick's orchestration are brought out, as are all those emotion-gripping moments which now really shake you.
I love my Sweeney
, and I love this new one even more.