“Life is a cabaret old chum/Come to the cabaret/”, words from the famous lyrics to the show Cabaret - a song that, oddly enough, does not appear on this disc but the spirit of which lives on in almost every track. Also threaded through is the feeling that all “the world’s a stage, and all of the men and women merely players”. All of life with its tragedies and little triumphs is represented here. Cabaret is fun but Cabaret is also potentially full of tragedy hence the title of Mary Carewe’s new album Serious Cabaret which uses cross-over in a positive way through jazz, music theatre and classical idioms.
She is a versatile and exciting performer. I have a recording of her singing Thomas Adès’ ‘Life Story’. She has also recorded Lord Berners, Constant Lambert and Richard Rodgers. She has also worked with Karl Jenkins on Adiemus. Now she turns to cabaret songs spanning the 1900s through to the 1980s. They make for an extraordinary collection. A Charles Ives song dates from about 1900 but sounds much more contemporary, with hardly any text!
Funnily enough the only track which I feel does not come off is the very first Diamonds are forever in which it seems to me she tries too hard; likewise the last track, Lionel Bart’s beautiful Where is Love from Oliver which sounds very mannered. In both cases I love the somewhat spare arrangement for piano. Otherwise Carewe inhabits perfectly the language, mood, body and soul of the songs each in their varied forms. She is superbly aided and abetted by Philip Mayers who also arranged twelve of the songs - like the Bart mentioned above. He displays technical dexterity and balances both aurally and emotionally each of the songs’ meanings and moments of wit and humour as well as the darkness that many touch upon.
The range is wide. Several have some quite thought-provoking messages. Let’s take songs about a sometimes-unrestrained female desire. Samuel Barber’s minuscule Promiscuity from his Hermit Songs is short, curiously difficult to pin down harmonically. It’s very telling. Kurt Weill’s I’m a stranger here myself is more in the sleazy jazzy style of the early 1940s. Three by Paul Bowles is about the loss of three lovers. The morning-after–the-night-before realisation that the man may not be quite what she thought is reflected in Toothbrush Time; another mini-masterpiece by William Bolcom with words again by Arnold Weinstein. Perhaps however they will both go through it all again by meeting up later that day. Cabaret is after all, mostly about disillusionment and ambiguity.
No texts are supplied in the booklet, which is a pity but understandable. Having said that, Mary Carewe’s words are normally crystal clear but you do need to listen intently. Take for example At the Last Lousy Moments of Love by William Bolcom. This speaks eloquently about lovers breaking up with the man telling all “to the woman’s best friend”. Gertrude Stein’s words, Letter To Freddy set by Paul Bowles tell a story which is seemingly autobiographical. Solitary Hotel by Samuel Barber is a setting of James Joyce which works well in its slowly unwinding, chromatic jazziness partially because it’s about a man and woman, alone in a hotel lounge.
From the years of the Weimar republic a quite comical song is Herr Bombardil, “who ate too much at every meal” an early cabaret type song (only a year after Ives’ example) by, of all people, Anton von Zemlinsky and Hitler by Stefan Wolpe with the date of 1930 attached. Hitler is described as “gentle, charming and means no harm at all”. One can sense the grotesquery of the goose-step. It’s almost Hindemith, a composer who influenced Wolpe but it’s sometimes transformed into a Romantic dance. The setting with its tempo changes is highly original and all very tongue-in-cheek. Wolpe, Weill and Hollaender, all represented on this disc, were each forced to leave Germany soon after this time and so carry the Cabaret tradition with them; hence the songs by Barber, Bolcom, Blitzstein and the Australian-born Carl Vine.
Gershwin’s Do it again has a Bachian accompaniment in this arrangement by Mayers. It emphasises a strong contrast between the classical and the sensual erotic with the words “O … do, do it again”. Equally suggestive is the following, Candy Machine which asks for its mounds to be dug and tasted. We are invited to “pop her cork” and the like.
It’s good to be reminded of a more home-grown tradition with two songs by Noël Coward. Mad Dogs and Englishmen comes off especially well. I had forgotten how clever it is, aided further by an even more clever arrangement by Mayers.
The booklet notes by Paul Griffiths are nicely constructed taking you through the composers but also touching on a social history of the Cabaret style. It discusses the works in order. The recording is close but not claustrophobic.
Despite what I at first feared this disc has given myself and my wife much enjoyment and some considerable fun.
Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry, Don Black, 1971)
What Good Would The Moon Be? (Kurt Weill, Langston Hughes,
I Can't Be Talkin' Of Love (John Duke, Esther Mathews,
O Just Suppose (Friedrich Hollaender, 1928)
Poor Little Rich Girl (Noël Coward, 1925)
Promiscuity (Samuel Barber, Anonymous, tr. Kenneth Jackson,
Aria (Carl Vine, Patrick White, 1984)
Over The Piano (William Bolcom, Arnold Weinstein, 1971)
Maskulinum – Femininum (Mischa Spoliansky, Marcellus
It's All A Swindle (Mischa Spoliansky, Marcellus Schiffer,
Herr Bombardil (Alexander Zemlinsky, Rudolf Alexander
Hitler (Stefan Wolpe, 1930)
I'm A Stranger Here Myself (Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, 1943)
At The Last Lousy Moments Of Love (William Bolcom, Arnold
Letter To Freddy (Paul Bowles, Gertrude Stein, 1935)
Solitary Hotel (Samuel Barber, James Joyce, 1969)
Do It Again (George Gershwin, Buddy DeSylva, 1922)
Candy Machine (Jack Gottlieb, 1991)
Toothbrush Time (William Bolcom, Arnold Weinstein, 1985)
Romanzo (Di Central Park) (Charles Ives, Leigh Hunt,
Three (Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, 1947)
Then (Marc Blitzstein, 1962)
O Close The Curtain (William Bolcom, Arnold Weinstein,
Mad Dogs And Englishmen (Noël Coward, 1932)
Where Is Love? (Lionel Bart, 1959)