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William BOLCOM (b.1938)
Cabaret Songs (Complete)
Translations and lyrics by Arnold Weinstein
Ancient Cabaret (2001) [5.06]
Cabaret Songs: Volume 1 (1978) [14.07]; Volume 2 (1981-83) [9.23]; Volume 3 (1996) [9.54]; Volume 4 (1996) [9.39]
Joan Morris (mezzo)
William Bolcom (piano)
rec. live, Flea Theatre, New York City, September 2003. DDD
CENTAUR CRC 2682 [52.13]

I should like more of these settings than I do. Joan Morris is, after all, the perfect Bolcom singer, her voice poised between the swooping and the resinous, between the trained and the nicotine-stained supper club. It’s an adept and able instrument for playing out Weinstein’s lyrics and for exploring Bolcom’s knowing melodic lines.

So why my problem? Is it to do with a lack of melodic memorability, or is it to do with a certain archness, the kind that Blossom Dearie drips all over her routines? No, it’s not in the Dearie scale of archness. The audience at the Flea Theatre – not a flea pit from the sound of it – certainly doesn’t share my lack of, well, my lack of enthusiasm. And the words and music are clever, no doubt. But why was I drawn more to the Ancient Cabaret settings where the epigrammatic and condensed feelings seem that much more powerfully targeted. The Fourth of them, Timomarchus’s Picture of Medea in Rome, is especially dramatic and its piano part calls for some power of its own.

The four volumes of Cabaret Songs are enjoyable and I wouldn’t want to suggest that you’ll sit stony-faced throughout. You won’t. There are little touches of Latin Americana (Amor) and overt fun (Fur – Murray the Furrier, which come to think of it has a very My Attorney Bernie ring to the title, at least). Then there’s Bolcom’s vamp piano in Song of Black Max and the drunken frolic of Toothbrush Time. If you want cross-dressing try George and for hip jazz references try the Radical Chic of Radical Sally.

So, with all these pleasurable and well-loved Bolcom songs studded throughout this near-hour long recital I am doubtless a killjoy. My loss, doubtless, but in the end this recital didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Centaur print the texts, a good thing as the translations from the Greek deserve scrutiny and if you happen to miss one line from a Bolcom song you tend to miss them all.

Jonathan Woolf




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