Which of these CHESS albums do you prefer?

CHESS CD Montage

Question: Of the Danish cast album, the original CHESS concept album and CHESS In Concert, what are your personal highlights? 

There’s a Benny Anderssons Orkester poster signed by Benny up for grabs for one lucky person that responds between now and the first Royal Albert Hall concert on May 12th, 2008 – so take care filling out your email address as it’ll be the only way I can contact you.

Here’s what Tim Rice says on Amazon.com about Chess…

"Just a quickie to thank all who have made kind Amazon comments about Chess (I have only just discovered them, having been told about them by my daughter). The music of Chess still sounds as wonderful today as it did when we recorded the original album in 1984 and I honestly believe B&B’s work here stands comparison with any post-war musical. I will not comment on the words! We are all determined to produce a theatrical version of the show that matches up to the quality of the score before we shuffle off this mortal coil. To date productions have ranged from the reasonable to the dire. I am convinced that if we stick to the original structure, resisting the tempatation to "explain" everything by unnecessary dialogue, we can make a stage show work and put this marvellous score up there where it belongs. The Danish CD is a good one by the way (nothing to do with us)." – Tim Rice 

Amazon’s CHESS page with Tim Rice’s comments

19 Replies to “Which of these CHESS albums do you prefer?”

  1. Each of the three albums has its merits (except for the Broadway Cast album, of course, which has none!). Certainly, the Danish album (and I was lucky enough to get hold of the full version before it was withdrawn), whilst lacking the superior production and vocals of the concept album is the most complete and the In Concert version is the most fun to listen too (its live setting gives it a little more ‘oomph!’and edge than the other two). But it’s the original concept album – with its soaring musical ambition, immaculate production and stellar cast that is still the definitive version. The vocals are never less than magnificent (I’m still gutted the original line up won’t be doing the Albert Hall concerts!), there are some truly spine-tingling moments of raw emotion (Anthem, You and I) and if you’re patient enough to listen to the whole thing in one go you’re taken on a wonderfully complex and musical journey, one that’s every bit as intriguing as the game itself. Even the original artwork is fantastic! I’ve been a fan of Chess since 1984 and absolutely agree with Tim Rice when he says that the entire plot doesn’t need to be explained in intricate detail. Indeed, I ‘got it’ at the time simply by following the lyrics of the concept album (and that wasn’t even the complete story!).I now there were rumours of a remastered (and possibly expanded?) version of the original album and I just hope they’re true because it’s an album that matches anything Bjorn and Benny ever wrote (and in places surpasses the music they wrote as ABBA) and it richly deserves a careful, respectful remastering. As does the show itself!

  2. We have to choose one? Well, I think I would have to chose the Danish recording cause it is the most complete and the story is easier to understand. I love that it includes all the music written for Chess – including a drinking song and "Someone Else’s Story". I love all my Chess recordings, especially the Broadway cast, but if I had to chose out of these 3, it would be the Danish recording for completeness.

  3. The Original concept album is by far my favorite. There are other songs, like ‘Someone Else’s Story’ (Broadway) and ‘Glom mig om du kan’ (Swedish – melody is When The Waves Roll Out to Sea) that I love, and would like to see incorporated into a new play version of Chess. The question I have is why the Original Chess album has not YET been remastered. Listening to the CD is sounds very flat in comparison to more contemporary recordings. I don’t want a new recording, I just want to hear the orginal in all it’s glory. I like josh Groban, but your can’t beat Tommy Korberg.

  4. Though the Danish recording and Chess In Concert are both more complete, I’ve always prefered the original Chess concept album. The production values are much better than any other recording.

  5. The perfect album, in my view, would be the original recording with the extra songs featured on the Danish one. Someone Else’s Story was only good thing to come from the American one. I was pleasantly surprised with the Danish version, an extremely good effort. But it will always be the original that finds its way into my car – the music, the production, the vocals – aahh, bliss!! And many familiar musicians give it that ‘ABBA but not quite’ sound (notable mention to Lasse wellander). Plus, if sentimentality is allowed to be a factor, the excitement of hearing what in essence caused the end of ABBA is also a part of my winning vote. Was there life after ABBA? There sure was – and what a life! The sheer power of the music, and the evocative memories of the Barbican concert … it’s the original and the best for my choice.

  6. For me it has to be the concept album, Elaine and Tommy make this a wonderful experience. Over the years I’ve listened to it to get me through some really bad days, it moves me to a place where I feel beauty and hope merge. Someone Elses Story on the Danish album is very moving too.
    I had to get tickets for both performances at the Albert hall and I await with great eagerness, it will be a great treat!!!

  7. Maybe we’ll have a new live album to compare as well, after these London shows?

    My favourite also has to be the original concept album but oh, how I wish for a remastered and expanded version – (expanded as in including a bonus disc rather than interfere with what’s already there, which is classic stuff).

    The Danish album is fantastic in its own way – and I also grabbed a copy before it was withdrawn and reissued – some of the extra material not included on the concept is wonderful to hear. What lets it down (at least compared to the original double album) is the rather bright and tinny production. Having said that, its sound is much closer to that which an orchestra and band in a theatre would produce (rather than the symphonic scale of the concept recording) and therefore has its own appeal. The voices of the principals are generally not as good though.

    Talking of voices, I’ve always liked Anders Glenmark’s and think he does a great job on Pity The Singer, ooops – Child (!) on the Chess In Concert album.

  8. For me it’s the Danish version all the way!
    And plus, its completeness means it’s invaluable when staging a production methinks.

  9. I’m usually not that fond of live recordings and therefore I have to say I really love the original Chess-recordings (why not mention the Swedish recording: it’s wonderful!!). I agree, a remastered version would be very welcome.
    Can anyone help me to buy the Danish recordings, because I’m "dying" to hear that one. Thanks already and bye!

  10. Copies of the Danish CHESS pop up on eBay all the time. Try there. Expect to pay $40 and up for it.

  11. Wow! Great question!!! I like each of the recordings for different reasons.

    Chess In Concert:
    This recording is the one that made me fall in love with Chess. I think it had to do with the presence of the audience because everyone in the cast and the orchestra is giving it their all for the applause of the audience. Plus is was great to hear "Someone Else’s Story" incorporated into the original storyline. Because I really loved this recording so much, I was able to go back to the Original Concept recording with a whole new appreciation for the show that I wasn’t able to get from it originally.

    The Original Concept:
    Once I got to the point that I loved Chess, this easily became my favorite, but it initially left me a little cold. Mostly because of Murray Head. His "Pity The Child" is like fingernails on a blackboard to me (it still is). So it was nice to be able to appreciate the song with Anders Glenmark singing it enough so I can sort of stomach Murray Head’s version. But yet, I find Murray Head’s version of "One Night In Bangkok" to be the definitive version, go figure.

    I love the pairing of Elaine Paige and Tommy Körberg. They are brilliant together. I think the Chess In Concert album could have been better if Elaine had been Florence there. Not to take anything from Karen Glenmark, she did the role well, but I’m definitely an Elaine Paige fan. It’s just such a shame there is no "theatrical" version of Elaine Paige doing "Someone Else’s Story" that can be inserted into the original. (Her recently recorded version is a "pop" version, and doesn’t in any way feel like Elaine was channeling the "Florence" she once was when she recorded it. Maybe someday she’ll do it properly.)

    One of my main complaints about both the Original and the In Concert recordings is that the songs are "batched" together and not separated out (especially since that’s easy to do on Compact Disc without interrupting the songs at all, granted it wasn’t so easy in the days of vinyl). One of the things that is great about Chess is that is blends rock with classical music but I don’t always feel like listening to both. So it’s a little harder to pick out the parts I want to listen to if I’m not in the mood for the whole show.

    And we can’t talk about the original concept version of Chess without the brilliant artwork for the album. I’ve always loved the look of the collapsing chess board with the lone square on the opposite corner. It’s brilliant and still looks just as sharp today as it did then (and of course the modernization of it with the three dimensional look for the Swedish version really makes the whole logo look sexy!)

    The Danish Cast Album:
    I am also one of the fortunate ones to have one of the original versions before it got discontinued and reissued with less songs. I like this one because it feels like an actual show telling a story. To me this recording plays a lot more dramatically than either of the other two recordings discussed here. But it suffers from a not quite so stellar cast. While I think Stig Rossen makes a great Anatoly, it’s hard to live up to the standard Tommy Körberg set and maintained in multiple versions of Chess. He’s a delight to listen to, but the rest is not so much of a delight. The girls especially sound very shrill when going for the high notes, it’s not pretty. But like others here, it’s complete and larger songs are separated out into their components, so I tend to play this one a little more often.

    One of the things that most view as a detractor to Chess is that it’s never really had a strong book to go with the brilliant songs, so every new version of Chess on stage or on record is something to look forward to because they never seem to be the same. Unlike Mamma Mia, which is a cookie cutter show that never changes, no matter where you see it, Chess, it’s always a surprise. It’s always a surprise in terms of order of songs, whether it’s Florence or Svetlana who sing

  12. I have heard all three versions a Danish friend of mine who is joining us for the concert in London played the Danish version for me.Its a very difficult choice BECAUSE " Some one elses story" is such a good song and so perfect for Svetlana that to leave it out now is artisticaly wrong.Its like leaving out "Addio fiorito assil" the tenor aria that Puccini included in his revised Madame Butterfly.I think I will go for the Danish Version because of this!

  13. I have all the versions,yet the least played is the original,can’t think why,I play the complete danish version the most and I really can’t fault the performances or production, that it is almost compete helps a lot,having said all this I do like them all even I have to say the tragic broadway production,the music is just superb and even though they tried very hard to ruin it they failed.The concert performances were excellent and Pity the Child on this recording was faultless,but my favourite version of all is the Swedish one,Florence was sung superbly and moved me greatly even though I dont understand a word of Swedish,and the DVD was great as well.

  14. CHESS
    1. Concept: With out that there would be no ‘CHESS’
    2. Danish: Fills out the concept and makes you love the show even more!!!
    3. Swedish: {not on the list} strongest cast since the concept. Plus I love the DVD!!! and Helen Sjoholm…… the voice….WOW!
    4. Broadway: It was a nice try!!!….
    5. Concert : weakness cast i’ve ever heard! Tommy korberg is amazing in the CD but can’t do much with a weak cast around him! 🙁
    The Danish verison has to be the original version before it was discontinued and reissued with less songs. Hard to find but so worth it for any ‘Chess’ fan!!!

  15. Thanks for everyone’s comments so far – not long to go now, so please keep sharing your highlights of the three albums directly based on the original London concept.

    Barry Bernstein – I know you were dying to hear if Kerry Ellis (as Svetlana) will perform Someone Else’s Story at the Albert Hall shows, and I can confirm that that is the plan!

  16. This article has brought back some very happy memories. I remember listening to the original Chess album and not really getting it at first. But soon, after a few plays, I was completely hooked. Looking back, it was so different from anything that Abba recorded and you can tell that from the bootleg demos that have been leaked, they were less ‘instant’ and also more complex.

    There are so many styles but so many hooks that ARE so Abba. I have to say, my favourite complete album is the original concept album despite the fact that I think that Elaine Paige’s voice is not my favourite. Obviously the additions of Someone Else’s Story and the legendary Swedish version of When the Waves would make the original more complete.

    The live version has a very different feel and some of my least favourite songs on the concept album sound much better live (Nobody’s Side and Anthem).

    Finally, I do love the Swedish version which I have on DVD – this is really moving and for my money, Helen was simply the best Florence. I also love The Arbiter and what has been done to that song on the Swedish version.

    So I love listening to any version but would have to chose the original concept album.

  17. I like both the Danish Album as well as Chess in Concert.

    Still, far more important than what version to choose would be to finally get a legit video of the thing on DVD or even better: Blu-Ray !!
    The swedish DVD is nice and all but only for us die-hard fans.

    BTW, any chance of a small meeting b4 or after the tuesday concert ?

    Regards from Germany
    Rolf

  18. I am a huge fan of the original concept album, mainly because of the production and instrumentalists (Benny, Rutger Gunnarsson, Per Lindvall, Lasse Wellander, etc). Nothing beats Benny’s synthesizer wizardry, and somehow I feel that in many cases, when his synth is replaced with a real orchestra, CHESS (which was meant to be a very modern musical) loses something. Merchandisers is a good example, when compared to the Danish cast recording.

    Speaking of the Danish recording, it’s nice to have the entire score, but to me it emphasizes just how long-winded CHESS can be. And it’s nice to have decent versions of "Commie Newspapers", "Interview", and "The Soviet Machine", etc., but it’d be much nicer to have the ones that were recorded for (and left off of) the concept album. Plus, Anatoly and Freddie’s voices seem a bit too similar on this album, particularly on "Talking Chess".

    And I’m just not a big fan of the CHESS in Concert album. It’s nice to have Benny on keyboards once again, but almost every vocalist sounds like they’re trying too hard.

    P.S.: A few people have mentioned a possible remastered/expanded concept album. You have to wonder why Universal hasn’t done that already — a surefire cash cow, given the massive interest in CHESS — when they’re re-releasing, of all things, the "Thank You For the Music" box. Unbelievable.

  19. For those attending the Tuesday CHESS In Concert at the Albert Hall, Rolf Hass asked if people wanted to meet up before or after the show.

    I think this is a great idea to meet new people also in love with CHESS, so if you do too, please write to me using the Contact link at the bottom of this page and I will put you in touch with Rolf.

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