Cole PORTER (1891-1964) The Cole Porter Songbook
Arranged by James Burton
Sarah Fox (soprano), James Burton (piano)
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, 2014
Sung texts enclosed SIGNUM SIGCD406 [60:33]
Cole Albert Porter was born into a wealthy family in Peru in Indiana and began his musical training early, He also started writing songs early - helped by his mother to begin with. During his school years he was active in various musical circles and wrote more than 300 songs. In 1915 a song by him first appeared in a Broadway show, but his first 'own show' the next year was a failure. After that he went to Europe during the war and settled in Paris. Financially independent he could live a luxurious life. In 1919 he married – a mainly happy marriage that lasted until his wife dies in 1954. He studied at the Schola Cantorum for some time but his successes as a composer were few. It was not until 1928, when he was 36, that he had his break-through on Broadway. From then on he delivered song after song that in due time became evergreens. Most of the shows are long since forgotten, though Anything Goes (1934) is still played. In 1937 he was seriously injured in a horseback riding accident where both his legs were crushed. He never recovered completely and lived the rest of his life under constant pain. In the 1940s there was a decline in his composing; several of his shows were flops and critics thought his golden days were over. In 1948 he had a spectacular comeback with Kiss me Kate, based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of a Shrew, which ran for 1077 performances. When it moved to West End in 1951 it ran for another 501. In 1953 he had another hit with Can-Can that ran for two years and 894 performances. Silk Stockings (1955) was also a success, but this was to be his last Broadway production. The year after he had his last hit song, True Love, written for the film High Society and sung by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.
This song is included in the present Cole Porter Songbook (tr. 18) and since the earliest song on the disc, What is this Thing Called Love (tr. 4) is from Wake up and Dream (1929), the programme covers his whole period in the limelight. The majority of the songs, more than half of them, are from the 1930s, which was his really great decade. The well-written liner notes by James Woodhall give details about what shows – and films – the various songs come from. They are not arranged in any kind of chronological order but since we today regard these songs as independent songs we need not bother much about their provenance. Instead we can relax and just enjoy the inspired compositions and the clever and often fun lyrics – always his own. His father was an amateur poet and maybe he inherited his talent for rhyme and meter from him.
Many are the singers who through the years have recorded songs from the Cole Porter Songbook. I need only mention Ella Fitzgerald in the 1950s. She was accompanied by a big band. Sarah Fox and James Burton work in a more intimate format with piano and vocals only. It serves very well. There is a charming and disarming playfulness throughout the programme. Burton’s accompaniments are varied and skilfully adjusted to the mood of the individual songs. He also contributes with vocals in a handful of duets and two solos: the rarely heard Where would you get your coat? from the 1929 show Fifty Million Frenchmen (tr. 8) and one of the greatest, Night and day (tr. 16). He has a soft and light baritone and he turns the phrases elegantly in a manner not unlike Mel Tormé. Actually his timbre is reminiscent of Tormé’s. Sarah Fox's agreeable and lyrical voice is also well suited to this repertoire. She has a surefooted sense of rhythm, is relaxed and there is no feeling of an opera singer at work. That said, her wonderful legato in slow songs betrays her classical training.
There are some unusual numbers, apart from Where would you get your coat? Mrs Lowsborough-Goodby (tr. 3) sung as a duet was written for Fred Astaire in 1934. The Physician (tr. 11) is from Nymph Errant, a musical play that never made it to Broadway until 1982 but enjoyed 154 performances at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End in 1933. It boasted Gertrude Lawrence as Evangeline Edwards, a young English lady who strives to lose her virginity. In this song she relates her visit to a physician who admires her various anatomical parts:
He said my vertebrae were sehr schöne,
And called my coccyx plus que gentil.
He murmured Molto bella
When I sat on his patella.
But he never said he loved me.
Word equilibristics so typical of Cole Porter, to a ragtime melody. The tale of the oyster (tr. 14) from Fifty Million Frenchmen is also a duet, and this text is also a bit controversial. The oyster is being consumed by a rich woman and glides “to the middle of her gilded insides” but comes back up and says: “I’ve had a taste of society, and society has had a taste of me”. The song was cut after severe criticism.
Most of the remaining songs are well-known standards and they are invariably performed deliciously. Just to mention a few gems: Anything goes (tr. 1) with a riveting accompaniment, You do something to me (tr. 5), one of his most beautiful songs and wonderfully sung, I get a kick out of you (tr. 7) quite irresistible, here as a jazz waltz for a change, I’ve got you under my skin (tr. 13), normally heard as an up-tempo swing song but here instead an intimate ballad. True love is so intimately associated with Bing and Grace and for that reason so refreshing to hear without the sugary strings, really beautifully sung. The duet Brush up your Shakespeare from Kiss me, Kate is just great and Ev’ry time we say goodbye is a beautiful conclusion.
A wholly delightful disc. More, please.
Track listing 1. Anything goes [2:53]
2. In the still of the night [3:11]
3. Mrs Lowsborough-Goodby [2:13]
4. What is this thing called love? [2:29]
5. You do something to me [3:43]
6. My heart belongs to Daddy [2:47]
7. I get a kick out of you [3:05]
8. Where would you get your coat? [3:05]
9. It’s de-lovely [2:48]
10. So in love [3:43]
11. The Physician [3:09]
12. Miss Otis regrets [2:24]
13. I’ve got you under my skin [3:11]
14. The tale of the oyster [2:57]
15. You’d be so nice to come home to [3:18]
16. Night and day [3:41]
17. Don’t fence me in [3:08]
18. True love [2:33]
19. Brush up your Shakespeare [3:25]
20. Ev’ry time we say goodbye [2:49]