“as long as there are songs”
Harold Arlen: Any Place I Hang My Hat – One for My Baby – The Man that Got Away
Irving Berlin: Always – How Deep is the Ocean?
Saul Chaplin: Please be Kind
Sholom Secunda: Bei mir bist Du schön
Harry Warren: Serenade in Blue
Walter Kent: The White Cliffs of Dover
Jerome Kern: Look for the Silver Lining
Ralph Blane: Love
Roy Henderson: The Thrill is Gone
Harry Barris: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams
Leigh Harline: When You Wish Upon a Star
Gordon Jenkins: This is All I Ask
Stephanie Blythe (mezzo-soprano), Craig Terry (piano)
Recorded at Meyer Sound Laboratories, Berkeley, CA (2013) – 55’32
Innova #875 – No notes or texts
Is it passé to use the term “crossover” when referring to an opera singer performing songs from what is now widely referred to as “The American Songbook”? There is always the potential hazard of operaticizing the “pop” songs (there are many sad examples) - but this certainly doesn’t happen on this CD entitled as long as there are songs.
Stephanie Blythe has already proven herself in this repertoire with her tribute to Kate Smith (performed live at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room in 2011 and televised on PBS, also with pianist Craig Terry). There is some overlap between that program and what is on this disc, which contains numbers written between 1919 (Jerome Kern’s “Look for the Silver Lining”) and 1965 (Gordon Jenkin’s “This is All I ask”).
The venue is a state-of-the-art recording studio, the Pearson Theater, at Meyer Sound Laboratories in Berkeley, California. Singer and pianist are playing to a room instead of to microphones and the results of the recording technique are startlingly realistic. Still, my impression of the listening experience is that it is like being near the back of a nightclub with the singer behind, instead of in front of, the piano. This isn’t really a problem, just a bit disconcerting. (And there is no hint that the pianist overwhelms the singer - certainly not when she projects all her considerable power nor when she sings softly.) (For more information on Meyer Sound, see: www.meyersound.com.)
The songs are presented in an order that makes for a varied program with extroverted numbers interwoven with the quieter ones; some numbers contain the whole range. I rather prefer the softer moments and wouldn’t have minded a bit more (operatic?) vibrato in the bigger moments.
Just as with her previous success in performing songs made famous by Kate Smith, Ms Blythe is up against our memories of Judy Garland (Harold Arlen’s “The Man that Got Away”), Jiminy Cricket (“Leigh Harline’s “When you Wish upon a Star”) and Very Lynn (Walter Kent’s “The White Cliffs of Dover”). (One thinks of the latter song as deeply, deeply British, but its creators were American.) She rises nicely to the occasion each time - and she and Craig Terry are marvelously "singing from the same page" throughout.