Thursday, 21 February 2013

Les Miserables (Complete Symphonic Recording)

The Complete Symphonic Recording is the only cast recording of Les Miserables that is completely uncut. It contains every single song and every single note of the musical. This is in direct contrast to other cast recordings which tend to leave out the "minor" songs from the show like Javert's Intervention, Eponine's Errand and Little People. This recording was produced in 1988 and it features a truly international cast, with performers drawn from various Les Miserables productions from all over the world: London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and even Tokyo. It's a very ambitious project and I'd recommend it to die-hard fans of the musical. However I wouldn't really recommend it to non-Les Mis fans because the quality of the cast is patchy. There are some excellent performances on this album but quite a few bad ones on it as well. I'll start with the performances I enjoyed.

Philip Quast plays Javert on this album and he's widely regarded as being one of the best ever Javerts, often the best. Quast is great on this album even though he does sound better on the 10th anniversary concert. Michael Ball plays Marius on this album and he's still - by a considerable distance - the best Marius I've ever heard from the stage musical. His singing is better on the 10th anniversary concert and original London cast albums but he's still great too. Anthony Warlow is really good as Enjolras. He did sound bored at times and I do think Michael Maguire puts a lot more passion into the role - but Warlow's voice still sounds great and I loved his deliveries of "Grantaire, put that bottle down!" and "Let others riiiiiise to take our place". Kaho Shimida plays Eponine on this album and she tends to divide Les Mis fans with her performance but I really liked her, a lot more than I thought I would actually. Shimida is Japanese and she had to learn all of her lines phonetically for this recording because she couldn't speak any English. Her pronunciation is a bit weird at times but her Japanese accent was nowhere near as distracting as I thought it was going to be. Also, her singing voice is lovely and her interpretation of the character is interesting. Whereas Lea Salonga plays Eponine as being very strong, defiant, frustrated and feisty on the 10th anniversary concert recording; Shimida's Eponine is much quieter, more mournful, and is very shy, sweet and sad. Shimida isn't my favourite Eponine - I prefer Salonga and Samantha Barks - but she gives an interesting take on the character and I liked her. Barry James gives an interesting take on Thenardier as well. As I'd found him really funny as Monsieur Fermin in Phantom of the Opera I thought James would make for quite a funny Thenardier - but no. He's the only Thenardier I've heard who isn't trying to be funny at all. Instead of being comical, James's Thenardier is much more sinister and obviously evil. This is of course much closer to the Thenardier of Victor Hugo's novel and it made for a very interesting alternative to how Thenardier is usually played in the musical. The kids who played Gavroche and Young Cosette were good on this album too.

Unfortunately there are some really weak performances on this cast album as well though. Gary Morris makes for a very poor Valjean. He's a country singer and his voice just isn't right for this musical theatre role. I didn't really like his acting either (or at least the acting that he gave through his voice). Tracy Shayne as Cosette is even worse! Her voice sounds very grating and shrieky at times! I'd take Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried over these two any day! Debbie Byrne isn't bad as Fantine but she isn't very memorable and Gay Soper's Madame Thenardier didn't leave much of an impression on me either. Also, I really didn't like Kenny D'Aquila's Grantaire! I think he was trying to make his voice sound like a heavy drinker's because he puts on a very rough-sounding voice! He sounds like a man who drinks a bottle of whisky and smokes a pack of cigarettes a day! Of course this is quite accurate to Victor Hugo's Grantaire but this isn't the book, it's the musical! His voice was unpleasant to listen too but when D'Aquila actually sings properly in Drink with Me he sounds nice. Another problem that I have with this album is that most of these performers never actually met face-to-face because they recorded their parts in different studios from across the world. As a result there's no real chemistry or interaction going on between the characters. This is especially apparent during The Confrontation, there's no tension whatsoever.

Completists will want to listen to this album because it's the most complete and it features a few things that were later cut out of the show in the early 90s to tighten up the running time. For example: in Attack at Rue Plumet Montparnasse arrives before the rest of the gang and has a brief conversation with Eponine. This should please book fans! Also, Eponine's initial response to the attack - and I'm paraphrasing here - is "Oh no! If I let the gang rob the house then Marius will think I was in on it! He'll think I planned the whole thing!" Also, in Beggars at the Feast, when Marius is criticising the Thenardiers, he accuses them of being terrible parents to Eponine and abuses them for not being upset that she's dead. I really wish these moments hadn't been taken out of the show and I was glad to hear them. However I'd suggest listening to this album on YouTube, as I did, because the cast isn't the best ever. Obviously if you've never heard Les Miserables at all then any cast recording is of course better than none but this wouldn't be the one I'd especially recommend, even if it is the most complete. The 10th anniversary concert is much better. It may not be the most complete but it has a much stronger, all-round cast than the CSR; and because it was actually recorded live the performances are more emotional and intense and there's more chemistry going on between the performers. No-one in that cast is bad and most of the performers are excellent. It features the very best performers on this album too: Philip Quast and Michael Ball. I'm glad I heard the CSR but I prefer the TAC and the movie.

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