Sinfonia of London, soloists/John Wilson  CHSA 5322(2)

The first in the series of musicals born of the legendary partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! has recejved a number of recorded performances since its 1943 premiere, from its original film soundtrack to stage shows to studio sessions. All of them suffer now in comparison with this treasurable new release, whether from their one-dimensional singing (even Gordon McCrae and Shirley Jones) or, more seriously, from the workaday orchestral backing.

For on this double-disc Chandos marvel, the world premiere complete recording, the orchestral input from the Sinfonia of London is stunning, crisp, stylish, gorgeously lush and bouncily rhythmic. The conductor is of course John Wilson, who launched this presentation so memorably at the BBC Proms a few years ago.

My only complaint is that the modicum of spoken dialogue, necessary adjuncts and interjections to the musical numbers, seems in a different acoustic perspective from the full-blown musical outpourings, but that is a minor difficulty.

What we have here a wonderfully characterised vocal performances from a cast headed by Nathaniel Hackmann’s Curly and Sierra Burgess’ Laurey. Their classic Rodgers and Hammerstein pre-Love Duet “People will say we’re in love” is delivered with such genuine engagement. At the other end of the spectrum come the sweeping choruses, “The farmer and the cowboy should be friends”, and of course, the climactic “Oklahoma!”, a paean to the newly-born US state, and whoopingly exultant here.

But the chief joys come from Wilson’s orchestra, gleefully performing every note of this glittering score. From my own experience having conducted a week of this show, we never get the chance to savour every last note, either dutifully repeating the “’Til ready”’s, skipping the dance interludes, and don’t bother with the playout music.

Nothing like that here, we are able to enjoy the lot, whether the Mahler One-derived dawn music interjecting into “Oh what a beautiful mornin’”, the stomping, wheeling affirmations adding to the joy of many numbers, or the gavotte-like delicacy endorsing such songs as “Many a new day” and the Entr’acte based on “Surrey with the Fringe on the top”.

My gallant little 15-piece orchestra did its best, bless them all, but we never had the opportunity to unveil all these additional orchestral riches. Now they are all here, on a release which needs surely to leap upon the shelves of anyone who seriously cares about musical comedy.


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