In December 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican Hall. That event is, thankfully, preserved on DVD, as is the subsequent Deutsche Grammophon studio recording on CD. Bernstein presented his final thoughts on a work which has a tortuous performance history – a glance at the list of contributing lyricists is testament to this. Happily, Kristjan Järvi did not tinker with the order of the numbers, nor did he make any cuts. Thus the composer’s preferred performing-order was respected, the events of the narrative being delivered by Rory Kinnear in laidback fashion.
Less rewarding, however, was the overall musical performance which, in many instances, was too fast to enable singers to articulate the text comfortably, and too loud to enable a judicious balance to be established. The Overture began inauspiciously with some tentative brass-playing, and the percussion department seemingly understaffed, with one player manfully attempting to cover many of the required instruments leading to some inexact entries and omissions.
The London Symphony Chorus was in fine voice throughout, whether in hushed a cappella
sections or in full cry. The singers also joined in the more boisterous passages with considerable and apposite theatrical aplomb. ‘What a day’ and ‘Bon voyage’ were propelled along by their contributions, though both these numbers were marred by Järvi interpolating ruinous (and unmarked) ritenutos
– twice in the former and at the conclusion of the latter, which was also not together. In both instances, they unnecessarily impeded the momentum of the music. When Järvi hit upon the ‘right’ tempo – such as in ‘I am easily assimilated’ and in the glorious finale ‘Make our garden grow’, the impact was most satisfying, but the latter was again compromised, this time by an accelerando
when the chorus and all the soloists enter halfway through.
The cast came across, to a great extent, as rather undistinguished overall. Andrew Staples sang accurately enough but was unable to disguise his very English background. His tone was not unpleasing, but he was unable to command that curious blend of naivety, nostalgia and ultimate sense of disillusion which the late-lamented Jerry Hadley was adept at conveying. Kiera Duffy had a secure coloratura
at her disposal, and so made ‘Glitter and be gay’ the effective showstopper it is, but the voice was one-dimensional and thus limited her ability to characterise fully. Jeremy Huw Williams suffered most from rushed tempos and an inability to project clearly over the orchestra. Martin’s bitter ‘Laughing song’ went for very little in this performance.
Kim Criswell is an old hand at such character parts as that of The Old Lady, and her histrionic presence and demeanour certainly enlivened proceedings. Admirable as her lower register is, the upper reaches were sometimes not without strain. Nevertheless, she and Duffy sparred most effectively in the duet ‘We are women’ – one of the many numbers added to the score following the first production in 1956.
After the uncertain start, the LSO contributed some fine playing, both collectively and individually (but where were the whooping horns at the close of the ‘Auto-da-fé’?), and so whilst it was good to hear Bernstein’s inspired and multifaceted score in its entirety, the pleasure was, in W. S. Gilbert’s phrase, “modified rapture” on this particular occasion.