Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Les Misérables Album Comparison Part I

Somehow it greatly amuses some of my friends that I own eight different recordings of Les Misérables and am always searching for more. It seems some of them simply can't understand the concept of having so many versions of the same songs, and mostly in languages I don't understand.
But to me, and I guess other fans too, the albums are so different! Each has its own unique feeling, its weak and strong points.
And because it seems I'm not already too busy with school, art and stuff, and because I know nothing about music terms whatsoever, I've decided to do a little comparison of seven of my albums: London 1985, Vienna 1988 (I guess, since the CD's my friend's and I burned it in a hurry lately, so I only wrote "Germany" on it), Paris 1991, Danmark 1992, Dream Cast in Concert 1995, Dutch 2008 and Live! 2010. Still trying to find a Swedish one! Let's see if listening the same song seven times in a row again and again and again finally cures me of this obsession...
I'm only going to include songs all of the albums have, and that's why I'm not rating anything from the concept album - too different. Some have almost the full score, but the Danish one, for example, only has 16 tracks. The songs will be given points from one to seven - seven to the best and one to the worst, of course. Besides that, the songs can get plus points for really awesome moments and minus for unexplained moments of horror, as can the whole albums.

Let's start from the very beginning!

Overture/Work Song/Prologue:
(to the point before Valjean's "and now I know how freedom feels...", because that's the most these CDs have in common)
London 1985
This version begins rather less dramatically than some others. The instrumental part of the beginning isn't as huge as it will be on some of the later recordings, and the convicts don't really sound that tough, neither - depressed would be a better word, though when we get to the solos there are more emotional moments, and these men have great voices.
The arrangements sound, to my uneducated ear, a little too electronic.
Roger Allam's Javert sounds very good from the first minute, as does Colm Wilkinson's Valjean. Javert's "no!" is surprisingly annoyed here, even to the point where it can make people giggle.
The tempo is a little slow, so some of Valjean's and Javert's conversation fails to sound like an actual discussion at some points.
No fadeout, just directly into Valjean's arrest scene.
3 stars

Vienna 1988
More dramatic than the London one from the first minute, with the grand notes nowadays associated with the beginning of Les Mis. Surprisingly short instrumental part and "humming" part, with a little angrier convicts.
But wait! No convict solos! Just directly from the "Look down! Look down!" part to Javert's first line! A big minus, Vienna, a big minus. Way to start this thing off.
An angry Javert (Norbert Lamla) with a great big "NEEEIN" yelled right on top of Valjean's (Reinhard Brussmann) line.
Thanks to Javert starting to say his lines almost before Valjean has stopped, this already sounds a lot more like conversation.
Fadeout with the convicts - oddly enough, you'd think they'd cut that out too.
1.5 stars

Paris 1991
A little less dramatic beginning than on the Wien CD, maybe the orchestra is a little smaller. There's an odd change of the track in the middle of Overture - I was quite surprised when I noticed I had left suffle on and it switched to West Side Story's Dance at the Gym in the middle...
These are some angry prisoners, singing "UH-HUH" angrily instead of some depressed humming! And the solos have a lot of emotions in them. Mostly anger. They one who we won't see there for dust when he gets free has a quite bit higher voice than the others.
Javert (Patrick Rocca) has quite a lot of vibrato going on. The tempo's quite good, and the song ends with the normal fadeout with the convicts.
4 stars

Denmark 1992
The instrumental beginning is a little bit grander than the Paris one. The convicts' voices have been mixed too down at the beginning, you can hardly hear their chorus - but since it gets louder. I guess someone tried to go for an artistic feeling here, failing.
Are these some meek convicts, by the way... Maybe they've been beat too harshly in the jail, but they're filled with much more quiet depression than even the London 1985 fellows, except for the last one, who at least tries to make some noise.
This Javert (Claus Kofod) has a little bit higher voice than the previous ones, and I remember that something about his "ej" made me laugh the first time I heard it. Danish sounds quite weird sung (or spoken, actually. But that's just my opinion). Especially the way Javert says is name. Ja-veirt.
Fadeout with the depressed convicts.
1.5 stars (sharing the last spot with Vienna. I can't decide which one is worse.)

10th Anniversary 1995
The beginning, after the clapping, is very grand with the huge orchestra, definitely the best-sounding yet. And these convicts have some feeling - even though it always amuses me when one of them accidentally continues to go "uh-huh" when the others switch to "look down" one verse earlier than usually.
Oo, dramatic drums!
Philip Quast as Javert, Colm Wilkinson as Valjean. Here it takes Javert the longest time to figure out it doesn't mean Valjean is free, maybe long enough to have a comedic effect the moment surely shouldn't have... Javert and Valjean parts have a little less feeling of actual conversation than some others, maybe, but they're pretty good.
5 stars

Dutch 2008
Almost as grand a beginning as the 10th Anniversary. And this has my favourite new bit of the score, a little extra: the short violin (or some instrument like that) tune on top of the Overture (can't explain better than "the one that goes du-du-du-du-du-du", sorry). Anyways, I always miss that when I don't hear it on the other ones!
These are some seriously angry convicts, too! I guess the Dutch language has some angry-sounding quality with all those strong consonants, so that helps a bit, but these guys aren't phlegmatic in any way!
Maybe out of all these languages, I enjoy listening to Dutch the most. And here, besides sounding cool, Valjean (René van Kooten) surprises: he's the first Valjean to answer really angrily to Javert (Wim van den Driessche)! Man, these guys here are mad, and the grand orchestration helps to get the point across. His name is Jean Valjean! Totally!
Fading out a little angrily.
+ for the awesome-sounding violin chord.
6 stars

Live! 2010
It adds to the mood to hear people scream when the first notes get played. And are these notes played big, I guess it just gets grander all the time. Huge drums and people yelling during the instrumental part! Some energy! The violin (expect I guess it's cello or something now) tune is there, but it's mixed pretty quiet.
Are these the angriest convicts yet? They just get madder and madder, I'd so look down if these guys told me to! The solos match the grandeur of the orchestration and the fastened tempo.
Earl Carpenter was the first Javert I saw! Oo, it's so great to have a CD with him! His "no" sounds a little, I don't know, "why I have to listen to these idiots every day"-ish. John Owen-Jones is quite angry-sounding as Valjean, but then again, he's against a pretty angry-sounding Javert.
A massive fadeout with angry drums and angry men.
+ for the huge energy. If you could dance to this, you would.
+ for having seen one of the performers live.
7 stars

Valjean's Soliloquy
Thanks for sabotaging this, Danish cast album. No Soliloquy? Instead I would have to settle analysing the Bishop's song, since oddly enough every CD has that?
I don't think so. Instead, I'd like to ask: Danish cast album, what is wrong with you?
--- to the Danish cast album.

At The End of the Day
London 1985
The instrumental start of this is pretty much the same as the start of Overture on this CD, if a little more quiet. It cheers up a bit, though, even if the ensemble could use a little bit more emotion than this. The hunger in the land etc. part sounds good, though.
I've always hated the line which mentions "bum." Who talks like that?
A pretty bitchy-sounding factory girl. And an annoying cut, since Fantine doesn't get the change to answer her. Not nice! Colm Wilkinson sings-a-little-like-this.
We get to the end of the song nicely, and the foreman, thank goodness, doesn't overact. I don't get the foremen who scream "ON YOUR WAAAAAAY", you can get the point across a little lighter too...
3 stars

Vienna 1988
A quite big beginning, fast and hectic with all sorts of drums and thingies. Minus for a very synthecized part just before the singing starts.
A nice-sounding ensemble - except for that nothing for nothing guy, who can't follow the beat to sing the six words or so he has to sing. This does the same cut as the London one, Fantine (Sona MacDonald) gets no change to defend herself against the factory girl, who sounds pretty mean, and whose voice almost drowns under the big orchestrations at one point.
A little too much echo for my taste at the female ensemble part. The foreman keeps his anger under control, good job!
2 stars (it was the hardest choice between this and London, but Vienna loses this time. Only by a little, mind you!)

Paris 1991
More horns in the beginning, but when it gets faster the instrumentals get underwhelming. I like the strings, though.
A very good-sounding counterpoint part, a good, solid ensemble.
The women gossiping about Fantine (Louise Pitre) sound mysteriously angry when talking about her.
For the first time so far Fantine gets to say something to the factory girl, and the fight is accompanied by yells and whistles of the other workers. And the foreman sure is angry, as is the factory girl. Eek.
The track ends with an unespectedly quiet but effective "non ma belle, c'est fini."
4 stars

Danish 1992
Is this a musical drama or a Christmas carol? Easy on the bells! The very slow tempo of the first instrumental part and the fastness of the other actually contrast each other nicely.
More muddy and quiet ensemble work, as previously heard on the Work Song. I'm starting to believe it might be the mixer's fault, since when you listen closely I think these guys aren't worse than the French ones, for example.
Electric guitars before the women start to gossip. Uh, um, that just didn't fit.
Weird echo during the factory girl's part. And everything has been recorded, no more weird cuts (but that doesn't justify cutting Valjean's Soliloquy, though. And I know you've got Javert's Arrival recorded, Danish CD. What is wrong with you??).
The ensemble gets better-sounding towards the end. The foreman is so pissed he almost chokes on his final words.
1 star

10th Ann. 1995
Not unespected to have the biggest instrumental part yet. Refreshingly this one has cut the slower part from the very beginning and starts the song with a big tempo and a big choir. So, not surprisingly, this sounds the best yet.
Did I just hear "butt" instead of "bum"? I surely hope so!
That one woman sounds a lot like Angela Lansbury, but I suppose it isn't her.
The Fantine-factory girl exhange has the most feeling yet. The foreman sounds bored at life in general, somehow. The ensemble and the huge orchestra sound gooood together.
This is the confusing, yelling foreman. I get he's mad, but I still think that's exaggerating...
6 stars

Dutch 2008
Begins strongly and loudly, with the slow part and then the fast part as usually. The instrumentals sound almost cacophonic at points, and the ensemble is great.
The factory girl sounds somehow the nastiest yet, enjoying Fantine's poor fortune and really blaming her for everything. Fantine (Nurlaila Karim) sounds properly desperate, too.
There's some excitement strings in the background when foreman sings the final lines, and kicks Fantine out with about the right amount of angriness.
An overall enjoyable performance.
5 stars

Live! 2010
And the orchestra, not to mention the audience, explodes! Yay! The song begins! Make noise!
Miscellaneous drums, maybe the clearest-sounding ensemble of all.
If the "bum" was gone, it's back now. Meh. But one of the guys singing about kids back at home has a lovely accent, and the gossiping ladies are maybe the best so far. I also like the live quality, just little sounds, heys and ouchs and laughs, make it somehow, well, more lively.
A shrill, mean factory girl, and a proper-sounding fight with all the screams.
Dramatic drums, a slightly messy singing - there's some yelling in the background where shouldn't be any.
A good, believable "on your way"!
7 stars

Now, let's see the points so far!
London 1985: 3 + 3 = 6
Vienna 1988: 1.5 + 2 = 3.5
Paris 1991: 4 + 4 = 8
Denmark 1992: 1.5 + 1 = 2.5
10th Ann. 1995: 5 + 6 = 11
Dutch 2008: 6 + 5 = 11
Live! 2010: 7 + 7 = 14

Adding the plus and minus bonus points and arranging...
Live! 2010 is the first with 14++
Dutch 2008 places second with 11+
10th Ann. 1995 is third with 11
Paris 1991 is fourth with 8
London 1985 places fifth with 6
Vienna 1988 is sixth with 3.5
Denmark 1992 is seventh with 2.5---

Denmark, you're about my favourite country in the whole world. I love visiting.
So, for the sake of my happy holiday memories, try to get better next time when we'll review a big load of Fantines!

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