Presented with the idea of a West Coast West Side Story
, you might imagine some kind of unorthodox interpretation, but in fact this 2013 production, recorded live (and recorded very well indeed) for the San Francisco Symphony
's in-house label falls squarely into traditions laid down by the work's composer, Leonard Bernstein. This is not to say that conductor Michael Tilson Thomas follows Bernstein's own recording of the Romeo and Juliet
tale of the Sharks and the Jets, which had a heavily operatic tinge: this is a Broadway-style recording, not an operatic one, and the vocal qualities of Cheyenne Jackson
as Tony and Alexandra Silber
as Maria are not too far from those in the hit soundtrack recording of the 1960s. Instead, it is Bernstein the composer who is the star of Tilson Thomas' show. Unlike the works of other Broadway composers who wrote tunes and left assistants to fill in conventional orchestration, Bernstein often made the orchestra a key partner in the action, and Tilson Thomas captures such details as the small keyboard line in "Maria" (perhaps a celesta) that is swallowed up in live performances and recordings. Tilson Thomas, like Bernstein, is comfortable with the variety of pop rhythms in the show, and the end result is a recording that really represents the best of both worlds. Highly recommended.