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Michel LEGRAND (b.1932)
His eyes; her eyes [05:31]; I will say goodbye [03:08]; Ask yourself why [04:08]; Summer me; winter me [03:22]; Magic [03:08]; I was born in love with you [03:56]; A rose in the snow [03:32]; Blue; green; grey and gone [03:52]; One day [02:56]; Martina [02:11]; Nobody knows [03:55]; After the rain [03:16]; Little boy lost [03:24]; Breezy’s song [03:19]; What are you doing the rest of your life? [05:30]; One at a time [03:53]; The windmills of your mind [03:29]; Comme elle est longue à mourir ma jeunesse [03:01]
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
Ambrosian Singers
London Studio Orchestra/Michel Legrand
Recorded in Petersham Church, Petersham, Surrey, 13th-20th February 1992
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61736-2 [66:08]

 


What have the following composers got in common? Jean Françaix, Lennox Berkeley, Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, and Michel Legrand. Precious little, you might say, but the answer is that they all studied with Nadia Boulanger. Once we know that, we might begin to see a common factor in their fearless pursuit of their own calling, and the flawless technique with which they were able to do it.

In the notes to this album the late Christopher Palmer, a leading expert in film music and associated matters, remarks that "this popular crossover-collaboration succeeds whereas others have failed". It is not clear whether by "others" he means those by other artists or others by Kiri Te Kanawa herself, but I rather mischievously take it to mean the latter, for my own reactions are that this style of singing, which was frequently nauseating in Gershwin and in "South Pacific" - I didn’t have the stomach to try her Kern album - works perfectly here.

And the reason, it seems to me, lies in Legrand’s rigorous studies with Boulanger; quite honestly, this isn’t crossover at all. I know that, if you listen with half an ear, it sounds like light music, with all the trappings of Hollywoodian sunsets, springtimes and what-have-you, but the melodies are too long and unpredictable to have much appeal for anyone who only likes light music. Maybe just one or two songs by Legrand have that sort of easy memorability to make real hits; one, "The Windmills of your Mind", is given here in a challengingly restrained version, accompanied by piano only, while another, "The Summer Knows", is rather surprisingly not included. For the rest, I would say that this is the work of a cultured musician who has analyzed the sound and style of a certain type of light music and adopted it as his expressive means, but who is writing for an audience of cultured listeners. It is classical music which uses the bricks and straw of light music.

The words, too, almost all by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, rhyme and jingle like the words of popular ditties, yet so often seem to reach out towards something more:

And one day a child, full of wonder,
Won’t fear the dark sound of thunder.
No dreams of danger
When a soldier’s a stranger
From a distant time, distant world.

So don’t make the mistake of thinking this is any less serious than the writing of the other Boulanger pupils listed above.

In the same way, while on one level Kiri Te Kanawa is using all the trappings of a singer born and bred to sing light music, the husky chest tones, descending comfortably and warmly to a low G (this from an operatic soprano!) or extended upwards, the white girlish tones and then the rolling vibrato on a long single note, in reality it is surely the fruit of minute analysis, whereas a Barbra Streisand presumably does it by instinct. The result is a wonderful kaleidoscope of vocal sounds which could never be applied to classical music but which could only have come from a classically trained singer. When applied to Gershwin, Te Kanawa invariably succeeds in pleasing neither gut lovers of original jazz nor classical musicians, but here it works a dream. No doubt she would cheerfully slaughter me if I say this is what she does best, but when I think of the Puccini album she recorded four years later …

As Palmer says, "with Kiri and Michel there seems to be an inbuilt, intuitive combustibility. They spark each other off ...". "Magic" was actually written for Te Kanawa, but all the songs were custom-arranged for the recording – this in itself being a tribute to the fail-safe technique Legrand got from Boulanger. So here is something really quite unique, recommended to all who are prepared to open the windmills of their minds.

Christopher Howell

 



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