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My Fair Kiri
on 26 August 2009
Make no mistake - this is definitely not in the same class as either Julie Andrews version, but there are some nice things going for it.
One is Kiri Te Kanawa's lovely voice - especially if you are a fan. But she neither acts the Cockney Eliza well, nor is her "gutter accent" at all convincing. She manages on occasion to pronounce the same word three different ways in the one stanza - and none of them anything resembling Cockney, either. Her "cultured" Eliza is much more convincing - the vibrato is a little startling at first, but it grows on you. On the whole it has to be said that Kiri's Eliza is at the same time the main attraction and the least satisfying feature. At its best it is really sublime, at its worst totally inappropriate. After your first listening you may wish to program out some at least of the "Cockney" songs.
The orchestral playing from the LSO is perfect - a bonus is that there is a good deal more of the music than most other recordings - including, for instance, the orchestral bridge between the overture and "Why can't the English". The temptation to use lusher orchestration is resisted - and a select band manage the original score beautifully - but the result is not startlingly different from what we are used to.
Jeremy Iron's Henry Higgins is generally acceptable - but his occasional incorrect stressing and phrasing brings out how much Rex Harrison's utter perfection in these departments spoiled us for anything less. The example of this that really grated for me was "The French don't care WHAT they do so long as they pronounce it properly", which misses the whole point. Harrison of course says "The French don't care what they DO actually, so long as they PRONOUNCE it properly" - which I will always remember as the first adult joke I ever "got" - although I was too young at the time to understand precisely what it was that the French were doing!
Warren Mitchell's Alfred Doolittle and John Gielgud's Pickering are both workmanlike but a bit perfunctory. Jerry Hadley's Freddie is also nice, without rising too much above the highly satisfactory.
On the whole, this is for staunch fans of Kiri Te Kanawa, for whom she can do no wrong.
For the rest of us, although entirely on its own merits it definitely has its moments - most of the other recorded versions of this musical are on the whole an even better "listen".