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Kiri Sings Berlin, Gershwin, Kern
Irving BERLIN (1888-1989)
15 Songs:
Let's face the music and dance [2:06]
I got the sun in the morning [3:14]
How deep is the ocean? [2:40]
What'll I do [3:45]
Blue skies [2:38]
It's a lovely day today [3:09]
They say it's wonderful [2:39]
Say it isn't so [3:25]
Cheek to cheek [3:25]
Isn't this a lovely day [3:02]
Always [4:27]
The song is ended [3:08]
I've got my love to keep me warm [2:49]
It only happens when I dance with you [2:10]
Easter Parade [3:07]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
5 Songs*:
I got rhythm+ [3:33]
Love walked in [3:08]
Someone to watch over me [2:41]
Summertime^ [2:41]
By Strauss [2:47]
Jerome KERN (1885-1945)
3 Songs#:
The folks who live on the hill [4:05]
Smoke gets in your eyes [2:53]
The last time I saw Paris [3:37]
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
+The Foursome: George Dvorsky, Mervin Foard, Cris Groenendaal, Ron Raines
^The New York Choral Artists
Abbey Road Ensemble, #London Sinfonietta/Jonathan Tunick
*New Princess Theater Orchestra/John McGlinn
rec. Abbey Road Studio 2, October-November 1996, #July 1991; *RCA Studios, New York, July 1986
EMI CLASSICS 2357302 [71:25] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


The present reissue, culled from three separate programs, demonstrates that it is possible for an opera singer successfully to cross over into music-theatre repertoire. It also illustrates a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
 

Given Te Kanawa's rise to prominence and popularity after her command appearance as soloist for the wedding of Prince Charles, the ensuing backlash was more or less inevitable, with her crossover albums coming in for particular scorn among would-be cognoscenti. Still, "traditional" Broadway and standards always suited her: an early recital album from New Zealand - issued Stateside on a Westminster Gold LP - included songs from West Side Story alongside the opera and operetta chestnuts. 

The five Gershwin tracks show what Te Kanawa could do, in the right vocal shape. Under the guidance of John McGlinn - Broadway's version of a period-practice specialist - she shows a wonderful feeling for the sense and style of the songs, injecting some breathiness into the zippy chorus of I got rhythm, adopting a slithery manner and attack in Summertime, a jazz-inflected opera aria. And she does this without sacrificing vocal quality, maintaining a dark, full tone and an even legato. The operatic devices don't always quite work: in I got rhythm, for example, Te Kanawa's long-held notes over the male quartet are too heady to carry the requisite excitement. But it doesn't hurt to be able to cap Summertime with a zingy sustained top A - the final float of Love walked in, by comparison, is tight - or to realize the affectionate parody of By Strauss with a round, soaring sound. Incidentally, it's good to hear these pieces presented in presumably authentic full orchestral garb, including the longer operatic introduction to Summertime. 

The three Jerome Kern numbers, recorded five years later, show slight vocal wear, but the performances are convincing. Te Kanawa musters a surprisingly tough mixture in the low range for her sentimental but affecting voicing of The folks who live on the hill. The tone is warm and enveloping in Smoke gets in your eyes; the legato carries the words easily and simply in The last time I saw Paris. 

By 1996, when Te Kanawa recorded the Irving Berlin numbers, Te Kanawa is making do with diminished vocal resources. The soprano mostly rides along the upper side of her voice, almost never releasing her full sound. This seems like a useful setup for text projection, but the edginess and lack of depth in the voice become wearying over the course of fifteen songs - the little-girl sound in Cheek to cheek is especially annoying. 

Then, too, what sounded in the earlier recordings like stylistic obeisances have frozen into full-fledged mannerisms. Te Kanawa will sometimes delay the sounding of the vowel in a word or syllable - as distinct from her actual back-phrasing, which is fine - to no clear purpose. The indiscriminate admixture of breath into the tone - in mid-phrase, as well as on attacks - seems designed to hide the weak patch in the singer's lower midrange. In Isn't this a lovely day, once past a squeaky start, Te Kanawa "warbles," singing on a preponderance of mouth resonance, without sufficient support - which proves no more effective here than in her operatic roles. 

The problems notwithstanding, there are lovely moments in these numbers - those moments that call for "real" singing. In Let's face the music and dance, the octave rise and full-bodied "high" phrase at the end of each refrain is effective. Te Kanawa, singing out straightforwardly in the verse of They say it's wonderful, draws the listener into the song. In Easter Parade, she leans nicely on the note connecting the verse and the chorus, providing uplift. The other songs needed more of that directness: in Say it isn't so, the breathiness undercuts the sultriness; in Always, the soprano keeps threatening to sing out but never quite does so, producing nothing but frustration. 

Jonathan Tunick's arrangements are in no way "authentic," but they're imaginative, sometimes helpfully so: the cabaret-ish setting of I got the sun in the morning, with its walking bass, plays to his soloist's laid-back strengths - Te Kanawa isn't a stage Annie Oakley by a long shot. Brass interjections have a welcome big-band impact and verve. Broadway mavens will start at the interlude of it only happens when I dance with you, which threatens to veer into Jerry Herman's Mame! 

I respect much of Te Kanawa's recorded work, both operatic and crossover. The avid collector, however, would be better advised to hunt down the full Kiri Sings Gershwin program with McGlinn. If you do buy this one, dip into the Berlin selections, rather than listening to them straight through. 

Stephen Francis Vasta


 
 


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