CHESS Question: a Definitive Recording?

CHESS

CHESS

There are many recordings of Chess: the 1984 Concept Album, the 1988 Original Broadway Cast Recording, the 1994 Swedish Concert Cast, the released then withdrawn 2001 Danish Tour Cast Recording and the the 2002 Swedish Cast Recording (which is in Swedish). Today’s question is perhaps not as simple as it may seem: which recording do you think came closest to being a definitive recording of the show?

Head on to the comment box below…

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7 Responses to CHESS Question: a Definitive Recording?

  1. Fontinau says:

    I consider the London Concept recording to be “definitive” for two reasons:

    1. On balance, it has the best performances. Like the Broadway recording, it’s 2 for 3 as far as the leads are concerned. Denis Quilley and Harry Goz are both fantastic as Molokov, but Bjorn Skif’s definitive Arbiter blows his Broadway counterpart clear out of the water. The Concept chorus and orchestra are at least as good as those on the Danish and Stockholm recordings. And those are marred by Stig Rossen’s “acting” and Josefin Nilsson’s “singing”, respectively. NOTE: Actually, the best performances I have ever heard are on the first London boot. Murray Head is in bad shape, but Tommy is very good, and Elaine Paige is lightyears ahead of her performance on the Concept album. Plus, the London Walter (whose name escapes me at the moment) is simply marvelous. But since that wasn’t an option…
    2. Although the Danish album is more complete, the Swedish album has “Gloem Mig Om Du Kan”, and the Broadway album has “No Contest”, I think the Concept recording has the best selection of material from Chess. It’s the only version (besides Stockholm, which loses points for changing the lyrics) to include the beautiful coda at the end of “You and I”, and the only version to have the “Opening Ceremony” in its proper order.
  2. Kyle Kepulis says:

    I disagree on several points:

    1. The best performances on record? I hardly think so. The only decent lead is Tommy Korberg on the concept album. Elaine Paige is cold and unemotional, and Murray Head just seems to be rattling off his lines instead of trying to act them. I find the concept album very enjoyable to listen to music-wise, but as a piece of dramatic theatre it’s dead in the water. I think the Danish Tour recording has the best performances. Stig Rossen’s singing voice is the best on record for Anatoly, and I’d take Emma Kershaw’s “Nobody’s Side” over Elaine Paige’s any day.
    2. How can the concept album have the best selection of music from “Chess” when it only includes about half of what’s been written for “Chess” thus far? What about “Someone Else’s Story,” “No Contest,” “Let’s Work Together,” the much longer and brilliant “The Deal”? And the songs that should’ve been included on the concept album, like “Commie Newspapers” and “Press Conference”? Almost all of these songs are on the original pressing of the Danish recording. And I also don’t think the concept album has the proper order of “Opening Ceremony.” The Arbiter’s song just doesn’t make sense before “Diplomats.”

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents. 🙂

  3. Wayne says:

    Fontinau: Agreed on the first London boot. Kevin Colson (Walter, also heard on the OLC of Aspects of Love) was superb. If Körberg were half as good on any of the official recordings, I would actually prefer those to David Carroll on the OBC. (Note: Carroll’s accent on the recording is actually greatly exaggerated from what he did on stage. I’m pretty much even on Körberg and Carroll’s live work in the original productions, but find that Carroll’s good points were better preserved on the album.) Elaine Paige actually had tenderness and warmth to her voice that make it nothing like the cold tones of the concept album. And Murray Head proved that you can’t do that to yourself night after night after night.

    I don’t consider the concept album definitive for lack of “Someone Else’s Story” and the “Walter and Florence” (later “Apukad”) and “Walter and Molokov” / “The Deal” (intro) melodies. It goes to Danish for material in my book, especially the original pressing for sheer volume.

    I’d be singing a very different tune had Sydney been recorded. 8)

  4. Jaded Mandarin says:

    I didn’t even know what Chess was until early last year. I knew “One Night In Bangkok”, but just dismissed it as another 1980s “one hit wonder” song.

    My girlfriend is a huge fan of ABBA, a band I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten foot barge pole: their music struck me as irritatingly perky most of the time and I can’t stand so-called “Europop” in general. Still, knowing my fondness for Tim Rice’s work on Jesus Christ Superstar, Aida, Heathcliff and The Lion King and determined to convince me of “the brilliance of Bjorn” she lent me the Chess concept album.

    It’s since become my favourite musical of all time. I listen to it a lot more than my girlfriend. It drives her crazy the amount of times I listen to it. I think she is regretting lending it to me now. I then sought out the Broadway recording, and I liked it – shocked gasps all around. My girlfriend didn’t, and now she’s doubly irritated that I have two musical albums to torment her with.

    I’m a relative newbie to the Chess world. Much of the accepted fan-wisdom is complete news to me, i.e. “Tommy is the only one: the only Anatoly”; “Judy Kuhn was too frumpy and American to be an endearing Florence”; “Trevor Nunn is a talentless hack who has never put on a good show in his entire career”; “Elaine Paige totally sucks”.

    My lack of experience – I’ve never seen the show live, only heard the London/Broadway recordings and read the London, Sydney and American tour scripts – probably accounts for the fact my opinions are so wildly divergent from other Chess fans, especially my being more forgiving of the Broadway production and more enamoured with it’s cast, who I think did an excellent job acting and singing, and shouldn’t be blamed for the faults in the script.

    I am even more shocked that Elaine Paige is not more well-loved: I think she gave a passionate, emotional performance on the concept album and was on top form vocally, hardly the wooden mannequin many would have me believe.

    I am currently working on a Chess script of my own.

  5. Fontinau says:

    Kyle Kepulis wrote:
    The best performances on record? I hardly think so. The only decent lead is Tommy Korberg on the concept album. Elaine Paige is cold and unemotional, and Murry Head just seems to be rattling off his lines instead of trying to act them. I find the concept album very enjoyable to listen to music-wise, but as a piece of dramatic theatre it’s dead in the water. I think the Danish Tour recording has the best performances. Stig Rossen’s singing voice is the best on record for Anatoly, and I’d take Emma Kershaw’s “Nobody’s Side” over Elaine Paige’s any day.

    Agree about Emma Kershaw being better than Elaine Paige on the Concept album.

    Disagree about Murray Head. I think his acting on the Concept album is excellent. (And unlike Zubin Varla on the Danish album, he can actually hit a high C.) In fact, if he had made a decent attempt at an American accent, I would consider Murray my unqualified favorite as Freddie.

    Agree that Stig Rossen has the best singing voice of any Anatoly on record. But the man cannot act his way out of a paper bag. I almost always consider acting to be more important than singing in musical theater.

    Kyle wrote:
    How can the concept album have the best selection of music from “Chess” when it only includes about half of what’s been written for Chess thus far? What about “Someone Else’s Story,” “No Contest,” “Let’s Work Together,” the much longer and brilliant “The Deal”? And the songs that should’ve been included on the concept album, like “Commie Newspapers” and “Press Conference”? Almost all of these songs are on the original pressing of the Danish recording. And I also don’t think the concept album has the proper order of “Opening Ceremony.” The Arbiter’s song just doesn’t make sense before “Diplomats.”

    I know I am in the minority, but I really don’t like “Someone Else’s Story”. The lyrics are awkward, and the song sounds way too much like an Andrew Lloyd Webber knock-off. For me it’s just as big a stylistic clash with the rest of Chess as “Merano” is.

    As for the absence of “Commie Newspapers”, “No Contest”, and “Let’s Work Together” – well, I can live with that. The melodies to both songs are fully developed already in “The Deal” and “One Night In Bangkok”.

    I love “Press Conference”, and it’s one of the few songs I really miss on the concept album.

    As for “The Deal” – true, the Danish album’s version has a lot more material than the London Concept version. But it also excludes one of my favorite parts: Freddie’s last jab at Anatoly:

    “How can you only think
    Of your selfish ambition
    And not of her position?
    Or you’d rather – perhaps –
    See her world collapse
    For a tinpot competition?”

    That bit, which beautifully sets up “Endgame”, went missing until the Sydney version of “The Deal”. So basically, I am not entirely satisfied with the London Concept or the Danish “The Deal”.

    And then there’s the matter of the “Opening Ceremony”. I think the “Arbiter’s Song” works much better before “US vs. USSR” than after it. The 80s-style solo “Arbiter’s Song” is written as a show-stopper. “US vs. USSR”, “Merchandisers”, and “Chess Hymn” are theatrical ensemble pieces. In a suite like “Opening Ceremony”, it just doesn’t make sense to stick the pop show-stopper in the middle.

    Jaded Mandarin wrote:
    (My girlfriend was) determined to convince me of “the brilliance of Bjorn” (and) she lent me the Chess concept album.

    The brilliance of Bjorn? Really? As far as I am aware, Bjorn Ulvaeus’s contribution to Chess before 2002 consisted of some dummy lyrics, and the line “one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble”.

    Jaded Mandarin wrote:
    Much of the accepted fan-wisdom is complete news to me, i.e. … “Trevor Nunn is a talentless hack who has never put on a good show in his entire career”.

    For the record, I don’t think Trevor Nunn never put on a good show in his life. I’m quite fond of his Les Miserables staging.

    And that’s my two cents (and then some). 🙂

  6. David Fick says:

    Jaded Mandarin wrote:
    Much of the accepted fan-wisdom is complete news to me, i.e. … “Trevor Nunn is a talentless hack who has never put on a good show in his entire career”.

    Fontinau wrote:
    For the record, I don’t think Trevor Nunn never put on a good show in his life. I’m quite fond of his Les Misérables staging.

    The staging of Les Misérables was incredibly well done. I also think he did really good work on Oklahoma! and in conceptualising the staging of Cats. I would have liked to see his staging of Sunset Boulevard.

  7. Dawn says:

    No recording is definitive – too much missing – but Broadway has the finest cast: no one but Judy Kuhn has nailed Florence, and Carroll and Casnoff are definitive as well.

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