Both the original 1963 incarnation and the new remastered version of The Concert Sinatra are distinctive contributions to the Sinatra canon. For listeners familiar with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ legacy as well as those experiencing these recordings for the first time, odds are you’ll be hearing Sinatra with new appreciation for his vocal range and carefully phrased delivery.
When Sinatra and orchestra leader Nelson Riddle collaborated on the February 1963 project, it was conceived as a concept album with all of the eight songs taken from Broadway musicals, most with lyrics by Richard Rodgers. As a result, Riddle’s strings—on their own—have the power, drama, and sweep of an epic soundtrack album. In this setting, Sinatra is likewise powerful, dramatic, and convincing with songs that begin as gentle commentary with lines from stage characters before he rises to affirming, triumphant refrains and crescendos.
The Concert Sinatra, despite its title, is not a live performance. Instead, it was somewhat experimental in its day in that producers utilized multi-channel tracking, a technique which wouldn’t be commonplace for some time. In fact, it was recorded on a motion picture scoring stage with the use of multiple synchronized recording machines that employed 35mm magnetic film. But these masters were not used in vinyl or CD reissues for nearly 50 years. Then, the tapes, which had been left in film canisters, were discovered and, despite some degradation, remastered using digital technology.
The final product was and is on the short side, though it’s now supplemented by two bonus tracks. The set appropriately opens with “I Have Dreamed” and “My Heart Stood Still,” which are followed by “Lost in the Stars,” “Bewitched,” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Perhaps the finest numbers are songs full of intensity no matter who the singer might be such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ol’ Man River.” The latter performance has earned considerable praise for Sinatra’s unique interpretation of a song normally sung by vocalists with very different ranges.
The original collection ends with the literal show-stopper from Carousel, “Soliloquy,” where Sinatra tells the story of a proud papa in a virtual mini-musical. The two bonus tracks, not on the original LP, have Sinatra joined by a choir for “California” and “America, The Beautiful.” While they’re musically and thematically quite different from the rest of the sessions, they’re welcome supplements to a package that might disappoint those who might feel eight songs, irrespective of the artist performing them, don’t amount to a sufficient “concert” experience.
Sinatra devotees, of course, won’t miss this opportunity to add this release to their libraries. Lovers of the Broadway stage will also find The Concert Sinatra indispensable listening in light of the lush interpretations of standards that Sinatra and Riddle offer. If all you associate with Sinatra is his swingin’ Rat Pack cool, this set will expand your appreciation of what the excitement was all about back when Sinatra was Chairman of the Board. No one else came close.