Now this was unexpected. Noted jazz pianist Brad Mehldau joined with acclaimed opera mezzosoprano Anne Sofie von Otter in a very unusual double disc of classicalism and modern recitals. Upon receiving it, I was struck, as the two-CD release is almost in an ECM New Series vein, at least insofar as the first half is concerned. Then there's that other affair: a highly eclectic choice of songs by Brel, the Beatles, Bernstein, Joni Mitchell, and others. Rock and roll included?!?! Well, that would never do for ECM! So the duo landed at Naxos/Naive's door, a label enterprise that readily took to the proposal.
Disc 1 is an adventurous cycle composed by Mehldau—Love Songs, for mezzo-soprano and piano. The title alone lets you know that it's strictly a duet affair, but the entirety of the cycle is surprisingly fulsome, von Otter's voice filling the upper register while Mehldau's piano sketches out the floorplan, atmospherics, and morphing milieu. The two thus join to paint a three-dimensional mural shifting through numerous modes and inflections, even to the point every so often of contrapuntal dissonance and accentuation. The pianist is, as far as can be discerned, proclaiming a return to elder virtues as part and parcel of the mature artist's repertoire; Von Otter abets that with lithe facility but, even more so, a deadly serious aesthetic panoply. The incisiveness of the result is riveting while sublimely pastoral, baroque, Byzantine, and more than once nearly neoclassical.
Disc 2 must cause eyebrows to arch and pulses to quicken. Von Otter's tackling of gems from the popular catalog is a dream come true. This is what many expected when Streisand, Kanawa, and a number of well-known estimables tried their hand at the inspissation of antiquity and the modern, but only Anne Sofie has now delivered that moody but thrilling long-awaited masterpiece. Right from a searingly sensitive rendering of Leo Ferre's Avec le Temps up to the meadowlark take on Richard Rodgers' Something Good and over to Michel Legrand's What are You Doing the Rest of your Life?, the versions here are stunning, flowing like a meadow stream through pastoral climes amid heady days of reminiscence.
Now for the sole criticism: Ms. von Otter should never have taken on Lennon & McCartney's Blackbird. It just doesn't fit nor can it be adapted to her wont. Yes, it's pretty and flawlessly executed but just doesn't meld with the repertoire. In fact, only Mehldau's "middle eight" solo (actually a near-finale placement) rescues the version back temporarily to proper context. However, other than that one small misgiving, and most will probably be a good deal more delighted than me with the cover, Love Songs is a rare feast, and 'remarkable' would not be too strong an evocation.
Track List: Disc One
Track List: Disc Two:
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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