Love Songs Double CD
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This 2CD set is the first release since internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter signed an exclusive contract with Naïve. The music represents a major collaboration with one of the worlds greatest living jazz pianists and composers, Brad Mehldau. The first disc of Love Songs is devoted to a cycle by Brad Mehldau himself, whilst the second disc brings together music by some of the greatest songwriters of our time, including Leonard Bernstien, Richard Rogers, and Lennon and Mcartney. Anne Sofie von Otter is appearing in performances of Wagners Tristan and Isolde at Birminham Symphony Hall and the Royal Festival Hall on the 23rd and 26th of September respectively.
Over the past two decades, pianist Brad Mehldau has been consistently inventive, notably with his own trio. His eclectic taste led him to perform compositions by Nick Drake and Radiohead alongside his own music. In contrast, Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter is renowned for her operatic roles and performances of lieder. She has recorded with Elvis Costello and made an album of Abba covers, but has shown no previous inclination to sing jazz.
This pairing is not an immediately obvious one, initially looking like a project dreamed up by record company executives. It actually arose out of the pair’s mutual respect which led to Mehldau writing the song cycle Love Songs for her to perform at Carnegie Hall in 2009. Following that, they decided to record together.
Love Songs is an album of two very different discs. The first one contains an extended version of that song cycle, for which Mehldau set seven love poems to music, including five by lyrical poet Sara Teasdale plus one each from Philip Larkin and E. E. Cummings.
Von Otter’s performances emphasise vocal purity over the content of the verses, giving them a chilly beauty. She injects most emotion into the Teasdale poems Because and Did You Never Know?, and they are the better for it. Mehldau mainly acts as accompanist, with only the occasional piano break hinting at the scope of his talent.
For the second disc, the pair suggested favourite songs to each other, unsurprisingly coming up with a varied list of show tunes, chansons and popular songs that balance European and American material. The songs’ common denominators are their strong melodies and emotions. Von Otter sings them all expressively, making this disc warmer and more engaging than the first. She is noticeably more emotive on the songs sung in French, such as Jacques Brel’s Chanson des Vieux Amants. Mehldau gets more space to shine than on his song cycle.
Meetings of jazz and classical musicians run the risk of pleasing no-one. Love Songs strikes a balance that should appeal to fans of either musician – and to neutrals too.
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CD2 finds the pair working through 13 largely well-known songs from a range of masters of the craft, and it's a joy. A million miles from the laboured efforts of CD1, you can spot craftsmanship at work here, from the lyrics and melodies of these beautiful songs, through the accompaniment from Mehldau who proves more than up the task, and Von Otter's sumptious voice, which is absolutely stunning on some material here. Occasionally, a little bit of the ice-maiden in the voice just stops full engagement in the meaning of the songs, but overall it's wonderful stuff.
Two tracks alone make this worth the purchase price: Michel Legrand's What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life? and Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time". Mehldau and Von Otter bring their album to a close with this song, and it's poignant and lovely enough to bring the hairs up on the back of the neck, such is the intensity of emotional delivery.
Truthfully, I wasn't expecting much from this album, but CD2 alone lifts it to 5 star status. Simply beautiful music.
Anne Sophie Von Otter has a superbly controlled vocal range and a warm timbre but as is often the case when opera singers apply themselves to jazz or pop music there is very little emotion or soul on display in the way she sings here.
In trying to match styles here Brad Meldau (again technically superb) rather stilts his own improvisational style. He should have chosen a singer more used to this genre to make the most of this material.
I should give this double album a miss and spend your money on two CD's instead, one each of these seperate artists performing in their own fields where they are both superb. This CD is a waste of two great talents.
Reminder to self, do not buy jazz albums sung by professional opera singers again, never heard a good one yet.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The second album is more varied and, to me, more immediately accessible. It starts with 'Avec le Temps,' the great love ballad by Leo Ferre'. A lighter song by a French chanteuse named Barbara follows and then Joni Mitchell's "Marcie," a song I probably wouldn't have liked if I were listening to Mitchell sing it but like it with Otter doing it. The best song on the album (well, co-best, along with "Avec le Temps") is Bob Telson's "Calling You" from the movie Baghdad Cafe. Otter does a good job on this though not as good as another version I have of the song, sung by the colossal soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson on her Lavinia recital album. (I don't know of any classical music singer who has the pipes to match Hunt Lieberson's.) Otter also sings the early 50s ballad, "Walking My Baby Back Home," but in Swedish! She seems to have lifted it from a recording by the Swedish jazz singer Monika Zetterlund. Mehldau plays straight on the French songs, freer on the American ones, giving them moire of a jazz feel.
I don't like all of the songs equally --I don't think Otter has the right kind of voice for Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird" and she doesn't invest Jacques Brel's "Chanson des vieux amants" with the emotional urgency Brel did. But this is a killer album, with two super songs ("Avec" and "Calling") and several others that are impeccably done -the songs are written by Joni Mitchell, Barbara (two songs), Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Brel, Michel Legrand, Lennon and McC.
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