Oklahoma! (Studio Recording) | Review
Friday, September 29, 2023
It’s not just an impressive historic reconstruction – it also makes the heart dance
Oh, what a beautiful mornin’! Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is about new beginnings, and from the first flourish of the Overture,
this new studio recording by John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London just nails it. You might have experienced Wilson’s joyous Oklahoma! at the 2017 BBC Proms, which was necessarily on a different scale. But the energy here is the same, as is Wilson’s commitment to finding an appropriate soundworld for Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations.
Nathaniel Hackmann (Curly) and Sierra Boggess (Laurey) have sunshine in their voices, soaring easily over the orchestra with just the right amount of vibrato
And here it is: bustling forward with the lean textures, rhythmic clarity and headlong drive of an authentic Broadway pit band. There’s a convincingly dry theatre acoustic, which feels just right. Wilson compares this to a ‘period instrument’ recording of a Baroque opera; the numbers and instrumentation of the band are identical to those used in the first Broadway run. The result is the single most complete account (without dialogue) of that full original score as performed in 1943, complete with scene changes, underscoring and the whole of that revolutionary dream ballet.
But it’s not just an impressive historic reconstruction – it also makes the heart dance. Nathaniel Hackmann (Curly) and Sierra Boggess (Laurey) have sunshine in their voices, soaring easily over the orchestra with just the right amount of vibrato. In fact (heresy, I know), they’re arguably better matched, vocally, than Joan Roberts and the ripe-sounding Albert Drake on the heavily truncated original cast recording.
The chorus is alert and stylish, and Rodney Earl Clarke digs deep under the uncomfortable skin of Jud Fry, with Wilson bringing out the eerie, shifting colours of Bennett’s orchestrations in ‘Lonely Room’ (the original scoring includes oboe d’amore and bass oboe; the lack of an orchestra list is a rare oversight in Chandos’s otherwise excellent documentation). If Louise Dearman is an altogether more precise Ado Annie than Celeste Holm (at times Dearman almost shades into parody), she makes an engaging pairing with Jamie Parker’s Will.
Of course, this isn’t a remake: it’s a 21st-century Oklahoma! that treats this score with the respect due to a masterpiece and the full-blooded emotional engagement demanded by a living work of art. You wouldn’t mistake it for a live theatrical performance; the singers and orchestra are too skilfully balanced for that. But the revelation of Bennett’s full orchestral palate, the generosity of the singing, and the effortless verve of the Sinfonia’s playing more than compensates.
The original cast recording is already essential listening for anyone who loves Oklahoma! – and now this is, too.
Richard Rodgers music
Oscar Hammerstein II book, lyrics
Cast Nathaniel Hackmann, Sierra Boggess, Rodney Earl Clarke, Jamie Parker,
Louise Dearman, Sandra Marvin, Nadim Naaman, Leo Roberts et al
Orchestrations Robert Russell Bennett
Oklahoma! Ensemble; Sinfonia of London / John Wilson