Alan Feinberg is one of those increasingly rare classical pianists who have managed to create an international career without the springboard of a well-publicized competition win. (No knock on competition winners who play like artists—see here. )
Alan Feinberg came to my attention some years back when he recorded a series of four CDs for Argo, one of which included a spellbinding performance of a Fauré “Après un Rêve” transcription by Percy Grainger. Feinberg’s approach was larger than life. Or, perhaps it was more that Grainger’s “transcription” left Fauré’s pensive little art song in the dust of a major construction project.
The backstory to Julie London’s career is a little ways down the page, under Time for Love. The above video is from a 1964 Japanese television special. It’s of particular interest because many live films and videos of Julie London have substandard audio, which feeds into the canard that she had a weak voice. Here she sounds enviably punchy.
Bart Howard’s song of 1954, originally titled “In Other Words,” was his response to the request of a song publisher that he write less complicated songs. Howard idolized Cole Porter, but, the 1950s were not the 1920s; simpler (and briefer) was better. Frank Sinatra included “Fly Me to the Moon” on his 1964 album It Might as Well Be Swing, accompanied by Count Basie, which definitely put the song over the top as a “standard.” All told, “Fly Me to the Moon” has been covered on approximately 300 recordings.
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Julie London: Time for Love: The Best of Julie London
CD Rhino R2 70737
Julie London, vocals; Barney Kessel, guitar; Ray Leatherwood, bass; others. Recorded 1955–67; remastered 1991.
The first installment in the “Vault-Treasure Tuesdays” feature was Clifford Brown With Strings, from 1956. The second was Frank Sinatra’s Where Are You?, from 1957. That’s one instrumental recording and one jazz-inflected male pop vocalist. So now, here’s a jazz-inflected female pop vocalist.
If you asked most people today to name the most popular female vocalist of 1955, 1956, or 1957, many would guess Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford, or Rosemary Clooney. However, according to Billboard magazine, for all three years it was Julie London. Julie London’s singing career was so unlikely that it could have been a Hollywood movie script of the same era.
Respighi Impressioni brasiliane, La Boutique fantasque
Liège Royal Philharmonic, John Neschling, conductor
BIS SACD 2050
I raved about this SACD/CD in my next-to-last column for Stereophile magazine. Having since then heard it played back on a variety of stereo systems, my continued exposure to it has only increased my respect.
I have not yet heard Andris Nelsons’ and the Boston Symphony’s Grammy-winning Shostakovich 10th symphony, which, perhaps, might be even better. But as of right now, the Liège Royal Philharmonic’s Respighi Brazilian Impressions on BIS is the best new orchestral recording (not only in terms of recording quality, but also in performance) I have heard in years. Even if you rarely listen to classical music, this recording is well worth acquiring as material that shows off what a great stereo system can sound like.
(Note: The photo above is not from the music video.)
WDR Big Band: “Just Friends”
Here’s an exuberant big-band video (from the year 2000) showcasing the WDR Big Band in Bill Holman’s unique arrangement of the “Great American Songbook” number “Just Friends.”
Written by Klenner and Lewis in 1931, “Just Friends” is a pensive, poignant ballad about lovers who have drifted apart. They are now “Just Friends.” (Two friends… but one broken heart.)
“Just Friends” is doubtless most often remembered as the blistering opener to Charlie Parker With Strings. Parker’s astonishing introduction nests details within details—music as Mandelbrotian fractal. Famous vocal versions include those by Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, and Tony Bennett.
Parasound’s Zamp v.3 stereo amplifier
One of my favorite lines from the original Star Trek TV series (and please, nobody forget that Alexander Courage’s theme music borrowed heavily from Mahler’s symphonies 1 and 7) was something like:
I bet five Quatloos on the feisty newcomer!
Well, Parasound’s Zamp v.3 is hardly a newcomer, but, it’s very feisty! And, at a US Suggested Retail Price of $349, it is a stellar bargain.
Frank Sinatra: Where Are You?
With Gordon Jenkins and his orchestra
SACD/CD Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recordings 2109 / Monaural
Originally released on Capitol Records, 1957
The first “Vault-Treasure Tuesdays” feature was Clifford Brown With Strings, from 1956. Sticking to that same part of the century, here we have, from 1957, Frank Sinatra’s Where Are You?, in a truly remarkable monophonic remastering by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.
The Haiku version is: this album of “weepies” is one of Sinatra’s best. Where Are You? was Sinatra’s first album with Gordon Jenkins as arranger and conductor. They struck the perfect emotional balance, avoiding both bleak despair and superficial hipness. And Where Are You?‘s narrative arc makes it the perfect bookend for Clifford Brown With Strings.
Shen Lu, Watercolor
Steinway & Sons CD 30039
I am very persnickety about piano recordings. Many piano recordings manage to leave me rather cold–both from a performance standpoint, and usually also from the sonic standpoint. Some of that I can trace to the facts that my early musical experiences were playing violin in student orchestras, and singing in school choruses.
Shaping a musical line and shading dynamics are existentially important in music. But the piano is unavoidably a percussion instrument.
Piano dynamics are a one-way street. Once you hit a note, it will die out as it will—there is no way to swell the sound once a note has started sounding on the piano. Whereas swelling a note is part of a singer’s stock in trade, and a violinist’s too.
Natalie Imbruglia (b. 1975) is a half-pint Italo-Aussie who embodies the Audrey Hepburn gamine/waif vibe. In 2004, Imbruglia was ranked sixth among the most naturally-beautiful women of all time, in a poll of beauty mavens such as model agents, fashion editors, and make-up artists.
No surprise, Audrey Hepburn ended up in first place. Cleopatra and Nefertiti (and the Queen of Sheba, as well) were conspicuous by their absence. Among the near-moderns, neither Lillie Langtry nor Maud Gonne made the cut. But, Liv Tyler did, soooo… it seems that there may have been a strong Recency Bias to the voting.
I have chosen to kick off my Music-Video Fridays series with Anne Sophie von Otter, from her live-in-Paris 2004 DVD Voices of Our Time—a Tribute to Korngold. (A photo of Miss von Otter is the image on the home page “Featured Content” tile for Music-Video Fridays.)
The daughter of the Swedish diplomat Baron Göran Fredrik von Otter, Anne Sophie von Otter studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and made her début as Alcina in Haydn’s Orlando paladino in Basel in 1983.
In addition to her notable successes in the oratorio and opera music of Bach, Bartok, Elgar, Handel, Monteverdi, and Mozart, von Otter’s art-song repertory encompasses Brahms, Grieg, Korngold, Mahler, and Sibelius. In 1993, her Grieg song-recital CD (with Bengt Forsberg) became the first song recording ever to win Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award. Were that not enough, she has also collaborated with Elvis Costello, and with Brad Mehldau.