It's been nearly 20 years since Koch International Classics released a trio of New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) recordings each dedicated to of a single composer: Leonard Bernstein and Marc Blitzstein, and George Gershwin. I'd somehow missed these discs when they first came out and given that they contain some gorgeous renditions of both familiar material and wonderful forgotten gems, I'm really grateful to Koch for the re-release.
On the Gershwin disc - He Loves and She Loves - Judy Kaye and William Sharp, accompanied by NYFOS co-founder Steven Blier on piano, offer up 21 Gershwin tunes, ranging from the ubiquitous ("Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "Fascinating Rhythm") to the obscure ("Innocent Ingenue Baby" penned with William Daly from 1922's Our Nell and "Feeling I'm Falling" from 1928's Treasure Girl).
Kaye, who's astounded on Broadway in things like "Phantom" and Souvenir since these discs were sounds marvelous on both discs. On this one, I'm particularly fond of her interpretation of the song that gives the collection its title: she uses her soprano to give what's generally thought of as a sweet peppy little song an emotional heft that touches and period tone that transports me back to the earliest parts of the twentieth century. Sharp's baritone is rich and smooth, and he when he gets playful – as in "The Half of It, Dearie, Blues" (from Lady Be Good!). This one, like many of the songs turns into a duet for the singers, but as fine as their work is together in this one, it can't surpass what they both do in "Hangin' Around With You" – where they hit some tricky rhythms with absolute perfection.
Blier's graceful accompaniment and arrangements allow the listener to appreciate Gershwin's tunes not only for their melodic gorgeousness, but also for their classical construction and musicianship. It's really an extraordinary collection
The Bernstein disc divides into two sections. The first, "Songs and Duets," features Kaye and Sharp once again singing tunes from On the Town, Wonderful Town, Peter Pan and Songfest. Both singers relish the comic possibilities that are offered in the faux operatic "Carried Away" and are also quietly moving in the more emotional songs in this section. Sharp shines with "Some Other Time" and Kaye's particularly touching with her perfectly phrased rendition of "A Little Bit in Love."
The second section of the disc is Bernstein's last work, Arias and Barcarolles. For anyone who's never heard these disjointed, sometimes atonal songs, it may take a while to warm to Bernstein's work but, after a couple of listens, Bernstein's achievements astound in each piece where wit and genuine emotion blend in ways that mirror the complexity of day-to-day existence. Kaye and Sharp navigate these almost dauntingly intricate pieces with aplomb as do Blier and second pianist and fellow NYFOS co-founder Michael Barrett. This is a richly rewarding disc well and should be a welcome addition to a CD rack.
As for the Blitzstein disc, it, too, has its rewards, but I'm going to discuss in a later review here on ATW, pairing it with another recent Blitzstein release.
---- Andy Propst