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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, October 2008

Within roughly eighteen months two of Broadway’s most successful and long-lived musicals were premiered: My Fair Lady on 15 March 1956 and West Side Story on 26 September 1957. Leonard Bernstein’s Romeo and Juliet-based show ran for 732 performances in the original production while Frederick Loewe’s and Alan Jay Lerner’s Bernard Shaw adaptation reached no less than 2717 performances. Both musicals were later filmed and for the 1964 My Fair Lady movie director George Cukor brought over Rex Harrison’s Higgins as well as Stanley Holloway’s Alfred Doolittle. Julie Andrews was rejected in favour of Audrey Hepburn, who was supposed to be a more selling name, in spite of not being able to sing the part. She had to mime to the voice of Marni Nixon. Julie Andrews eventually got her due in films like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. In 1958 it reached London and on 3 February 1959 it opened at the Oscarsteatern in Stockholm. The original Swedish cast was also recorded and all the songs were frequently heard on the radio—I learnt them that way. There have been at least two revivals in Stockholm and on 12 September this year (2008) still another production will be mounted at Oscars.

Original cast recordings tend to capture the atmosphere of a musical better than any later assumptions and this My Fair Lady is no exception. When Columbia set it down just a week and a half after the stage premiere the entire cast was still fresh and enjoying themselves greatly. This is very obvious when one returns to it after a good many years. It is worth noting that all seventeen numbers were recorded in a single day. Clearly everyone was on the ball. Franz Allers, known to operetta lovers through a great number of classic Viennese operetta recordings, conducts the score with obvious relish and ideal tempos. The readings of the central roles are classics with the young Julie Andrews fresh as dew and hilariously cockneyish. Her wrath is really tangible in Just you wait, ’enry ’iggins. Her father is memorably acted by Stanley Holloway and Rex Harrison has probably never been surpassed, not even by his slightly older self in the film version. John Michael King sings well as Freddy and it is interesting to find James Morris, who later became one of the greatest Wagner singers in the world, as one of the cockneys. When this was recorded he was not yet twenty. As a bonus we also get The Embassy Waltz, recorded by Percy Faith and His Orchestra a couple of weeks later. There was obviously not room enough for that music on the original LP.

A further bonus is five songs from two other Lerner & Loewe collaborations, The Day Before Spring and Brigadoon. Four of them are sung by the splendidly expressive Kaye Ballard, including a riveting vaudeville number as the final track, and There But For You Go I is charmingly sung by Mr Lerner himself.

The sound is not up to today’s standard but is more than acceptable. There are other recordings on the market, besides the film sound-track Decca recorded it with Jeremy Irons as Higgins, Kiri Te Kanawa as Eliza and Jerry Hadley as a classy Freddy. I have always liked that disc but nothing can beat the present original cast recording. A necessary purchase for every lover of this immortal musical comedy.

Patrick Gary
MusicWeb International, September 2008

Naxos has gone back to the vaults to find another gem to shine up and release.

Few are unfamiliar with this musical. The original release of the 1956 Broadway cast recordings reached #1 on the Billboard album charts. At the time the musical set the record for the longest continuous run on Broadway and achieved more than 2000 performances in the West End. The film adaptation eventually won 7 Academy Awards in 1964. The original cast included Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, and Robert Coote in addition to Julie Andrews in her first major role.

The story is famously an adaptation of Pygmalion, and concerns the transformation of the young and pretty Cockney Eliza Doolittle from a common flower girl to a woman capable of passing in upper class society. Many of the songs, such as I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, and Wouldn't It Be Loverly have become standards. The remainder are equally outstanding. What's more is that the original cast seems to have been perfectly assembled. Listening to this recording makes it obvious why this was such a brilliantly successful musical.

The original recordings have been cleaned up to pristine condition. There is little background noise and the fidelity is as good as the 1950s recording equipment would produce. Generally speaking this entire disc is as good as a vintage recording can be.

The bonus material is different from the cast recordings that front the CD, but also quite good. Songs written by Lerner and Lowe for The Day Before Spring and Brigadoon are given an easy listening light jazz treatment. Kaye Ballard competently handles the bulk of the vocals, but the lyricist himself, Alan Jay Lerner, sings There But For You Go I. The performances are given a straight-ahead jazz treatment that would not be out of character for Chet Baker.

Anyone who does not already have an earlier copy of these recordings should definitely consider purchasing this album. As a Golden Age Broadway musical recording this is as good as it gets.

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