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Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd / Jane Henschel, Mark Stone. Ulf Schirmer

Album Summary

>Sondheim, Stephen : Sweeney Todd
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

To commemorate its 60th anniversary in 2012, the Munich Radio Orchestra, under director Ulf Schirmer, performed Stephen Sondheim's musical, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Sweeney Todd was originally based on a 19th century English horror story. Building on an adaptation by playwright Christopher Bond, Stephen Sondheim wrote lyrics and music for his most extensive and complex score for the stage. This marks the first complete German recording of "Sweeney Todd".

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Prinzregententheater, München (05/06/2012).

Even though this German production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd may be greeted with some skepticism, it is a remarkable performance in English that is fairly free of language problems and surprisingly faithful to classic recordings of this operatic musical. With Mark Stone as Sweeney, Jane Henschel as Mrs. Lovett, Gregg Baker as Anthony, and Rebecca Bottone as Johanna, the cast consciously aims toward a vague approximation of Cockney, intermittently applied, and there are only a few moments in the choral numbers where the Bavarian Radio Choir sings with obvious traces of a German accent. Henschel doesn't sing with the nasal twang associated with Angela Lansbury, though it takes a lot of effort to impersonate that voice, and she was wise to avoid such affectation. Similarly, Stone doesn't growl as fiercely as Len Cariou, and he pursues a richer, more mellifluous interpretation of the character. The highlight of the show is the duet "A Little Priest," which gives Henschel and Stone their most comic moments and steals the show. The Munich Radio Orchestra is conducted by Ulf Schirmer, and they provide a warm and luscious accompaniment to the singing, and the spontaneity of the live performance makes this feel convincingly like a fully staged version. Sweeney Todd has enjoyed many productions in Germany, and this BR Klassik recording will do well there, though it needs wider distribution in the United States to compete with the original Broadway and London cast recordings. ~ Blair Sanderson


A Cut Below the Rest
This 2012 adaptation recording of the “Sweeney Todd” musical play recycles the dregs of the butcher shop from Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire. Acclaimed throughout the musical world complete with awards and multiple revivals, this macabre production is re-ground again in the twenty-first century. This composition emerged during a time of numerous grisly stage presentations, but its revival still drips.

The voices of the players, however, reflect their training; Jane Henschel, Mark Stone, and the other performers bring beautiful voices to their characters. Some warbly textures may be characteristic of musical projection on the stage. But the story is neither appealing nor credible; the tunes are lacking in melody, and the characters are not convincing. An exception is the character of Mrs. Lovett, which provides much-needed comic relief with frenetic humor and hysteria.

The Münchner Rundfunkorchester supports the performance with fine quality of sound. The jacket and cover caution the unwary to don plastic gloves before opening. The booklet explanation clearly describes the ghastly setting and synopsis of scenes, so the listener is forewarned. The recording must be paired with a visual performance, however, or much understanding of the story will be lost.

The thoughtful audience could possibly consider a Dickensian similarity of oppression and hopelessness as the driving force of the story. Is Sondheim trying to portray kinds of love which survive despair and hate? Is the underlying message “Revenge will consume and destroy you”? Does Sondheim allude to these themes of love and revenge which are the basis of so many operas in performance today?

To be sure, very famous stars appearing in this musical have generated past success and may now renew interest. Audiences and reviewers may be attracted by the macabre and appalling. It is astounding that such a tale and composition would again attract the support of underwriters, producers, performers, and audiences.

Submitted on 03/15/13 by howsweetthesound 
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Works Details

>Sondheim, Stephen : Sweeney Todd
  • Performers: Gregg Baker (Baritone); Jonathan Best (Bass); Rebecca Bottone (Soprano); Pascal Charbonneau (Voice); Diana Dimarzio (Voice); Adrian Dwyer (Voice); Jane Henschel (Alto); Andreas Hirtreiter (Tenor); Andrew Meyer (Voice); Ronald Samm (Voice); Bernard Schneider (Voice); Mark Stone (Voice)
  • Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
  • Ensemble: Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Running Time: 85 min. 15 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1979