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Renée Fleming Sings Broadway
Renée Fleming (soprano)
Leslie Odom Jr. (vocals)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Rob Fisher
rec. 2017/18, Power Studio & Sound on Sound, New York City, Abbey
Road Studio 2, London DECCA483 4215 [64:24]
To call Renée Fleming versatile is a heavy understatement. She seems limitless in her effortless investigation of genres and repertoire. Having learnt 50+ operatic roles and dived in the archives for odd material that figured in her concert repertoire and on records, ventured into jazz, chansons, indie rock and God knows what, it was only a matter of time before she would step onto the Broadway stage, which she did in 2018 at the Imperial Theatre as Nettie Fowler in a revival of Carousel – and earned a Tony nomination! Now here Decca attentively present a full-length recital with Renée in Broadway musical repertoire, and my only regret is that we are denied anything from Nettie Fowler’s role, June Is Bustin’ Out All Over or, even better, You’ll Never Walk Alone. But you can’t have everything and Richard Rodgers is well catered for anyway.
What I do like is that the repertoire is, by and large, unhackneyed and the time span is wide, from Cole Porter’s Red, Hot and Blue (1936) to Pasek & Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen (2016) and the main focus is on fairly recent works. There is something from each decade from the 1930s and onwards and half the numbers are from the 1980s and onwards. Many of the songs were new to me, even a couple from actually well-known musicals. I’m sure that everyone buying this disc will find music that is their taste, and if I pick some, for me, new acquaintances that doesn’t mean that those I don’t mention are inferior. So Big/So Small (tr. 4) really went to my heart, not least for Ms Fleming’s lovely singing and where she employs her trademark honeyed tone. Lay Down Your Head (tr. 7) from Violet, a soft beautiful lullaby, also enters my favourite list.
There are also a couple of composers well-known for other works. John Kander, who in symbiosis with Fred Ebb created Cabaret and Chicago, is here represented by The Visit from as recently as 2001, and Jerry Bock – Sheldon Harnick of Fiddler on the Roof fame, here show that The Fiddler (1964) wasn’t a one-off affair. Dear Friend, a beautiful song beautifully sung, is from the musical She Loves Me from the previous year.
Meredith Willson was, if anything, a musical chameleon. He wrote some musicals, of which The Music Man (1957) was a hit and everybody has heard Seventy-Six Trombones. But Till There Was You is certainly an old favourite of mine. But he also wrote film music – his score for Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) got an Academy Award nomination – he wrote popular music, sung by Frank Sinatra and – The Beatles – and his two symphonies from the 1930s, available on a Naxos CD, are certainly worth a listen.
Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music is, and will forever be, associated with Send In The Clowns (quite awfully sung on the original cast Broadway album). But there is more to this 1973 musical than that song and The Glamorous Life is a riveting piece even though it hasn’t got the hit potential.
Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me On A Sunday originally appeared as the title song in a one-woman-show or song cycle, written specifically for Marti Webb in 1979. It was later incorporated as the song portion of Song and Dance. I have long treasured Marti Webb’s recording. It was indeed a treat to hear it again in Renée Fleming’s reading. Another multi-talented musician is Gordon Matthew Sumner, better known under his artist’s name Sting. August Winds from 2014 is a beautiful example of his melodic vein and became another entry for my list of new favourites. The concluding number on this utterly attractive disc is a soft-swing version of Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, idiomatically sung with beautiful relaxed phrasing and adorned with a tasteful piano solo half-way through.
It is often with some trepidation that I put on discs with opera singers letting their hair down and tackling light repertoire. The result can sometimes be too grand and inflexible. Not so with Renée Fleming. She adjusts to the requirements and never over-sings. By all means, she employs her operatic voice when it is suitable, as for instance in Something Wonderful from The King And I and Wonderful Guy from South Pacific, but in a sensitive way. And she always has her soft pianissimos to resort to in emotional moments. Both songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It seems she has a soft spot for their production. That also goes for the title song from The Sound of Music. It is of course for ever etched into my memory in Julie Andrews’ version. But others have done the role memorably. Renée Fleming is one, in her own way, and Frederica von Stade in a Telarc recording is another favourite, though my wife will never accept anyone but Julie Andrews.
All in all, then, a valuable disc with quite a lot of songs off the beaten track, which admirers of Renée Fleming, or of Broadway musicals in general, or both, should derive hours and hours of pleasure from. The lack of texts is regrettable but is probably a matter of copyright.
Contents Adam GUETTEL (b. 1964)
The Light in the Piazza (2003):
1. Fable [4:33] Richard RODGERS (1902 – 1979)
South Pacific (1949):
2. Loneliness of Evening [3:23] Stephen SONDHEIM (b. 1930)/Richard RODGERS
Into the Woods (1987)/South Pacific (1949):
3. Children Will Listen/You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught [4:15] Benj PASEK (b. 1985) & Justin PAUL (b. 1985)
Dear Evan Hansen (2016):
4. So Big/So Small [4:41] Richard RODGERS
The King and I (1951):
5. Something Wonderful [3:09]
South Pacific (1949):
6. Wonderful Guy [2:56] Jeanine TESORI (b. 1961)
7. Lay Down Your Head [2:58] Cole PORTER (1891 – 1964)
Red, Hot and Blue (1936):
8. Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor) [4:49] John KANDER (b. 1927)
The Visit (2001):
9. Love and Love Alone/Winter [3:16] Jerry BOCK (1928 – 2010)
She Loves Me (1963):
10. Dear Friend [4:06] Richard RODGERS
The Sound of Music (1959):
11. The Sound of Music [3:31] Maury YESTON (b. 1945)
12. Unusual Way [3:23] Meredith WILLSON (1902 – 1984)
The Music Man (1957):
13. Till There Was You [3:27] Stephen SONDHEIM
A Little Night Music (1973):
14. The Glamorous Life [3:56] Andrew LLOYD WEBBER (b. 1948)
Song and Dance (1982):
15. Tell Me on a Sunday [4:13] Gordon Matthew SUMNER (Sting) (b. 1951)
The Last Ship (2014):
16. August Winds [3:23] Jerome KERN (1885 – 1945)
Very Warm for May (1939):
17. All the Things You Are [4:27]
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