There is so little of Barbara Cook on DVD that we have to treasure every scrap. The greatest singer of the last 60 years is an object lesson in taste, style, clarity and emotion, and I never cease to wonder at the variety of ways she can colour a phrase to bring out every detail of a lyric. No-one who hears her sing "Send in the Clowns" here will ever want another version.
The 110-minute programme presented here is built round the conceit of songs that Stephen Sondheim wishes he'd written (Really? "Swanee"?? "Hard Hearted Hannah"???), alternated with songs that Mr S HAS written . There's a bit too much chat between numbers for my taste, and it's a real shame about the accompaniment by Wally Harper. One of Cook's signature songs used to be "It's Better with a Band", and that's nothing less than the truth.
I don't want to be too rude about Harper, who as Cook's Music Director and Music Guru pretty much reinvented her as a cabaret singer. We have a lot to thank him for, and besides, he's dead. It's not that the singer/piano collaboration is unsatisfying; it can be much more intimate and personal. It's just that Harper, brilliant arranger that he is, is only a competent pianist. A competent accompanist is alert and supports a singer, but a great one, such as David Harrod, powers a singer. Some of Harper's playing seems fussy, over-arranged, and distracting.
Then there's the small question of the price. I wouldn't normally pay £20 for a DVD; but Cook is an artiste of such quality, if you care about musicals and the Great American Song Book, that you have to grin and bear it.