What Sterling Records was unable to do for Betty Buckley and Angel/EMI was unable to do for Bernadette Peters, DRG has done magnificently for the incandescent Barbara Cook. Why, you may ask, is it so difficult for some labels to produce a complete, unedited recording of a live concert at Carnegie Hall?
Over the years, dozens of landmark concerts have been recorded for posterity in this hallowed hall. Thus have essential historical documents been created for future generations to study and enjoy. But it took many years for even the best of these concerts--e.g., unforgettable performances by Judy Garland and Tony Bennett--to be issued complete on CD. There really is no excuse for releasing a one-disc, highlights version of a Carnegie Hall concert, as was done to Betty Buckley in 1996 and Bernadette Peters in 1997. I suppose the "logic" at work here is that members of the general public don't want to purchase a two-disc set when they can get the highlights for much less money. Hello? Earth to the record companies! Who do you think is buying these things? Anyone who's a fan of people like Buckley, Peters, and Cook will gladly pay for two CDs. These are not "point of purchase" sales items like rock, rap, or techno albums!
Thankfully, none of this is an issue with regard to the DRG recording of Cook's February 2 concert at Carnegie. Beautifully packaged, with liner notes by Frank Rich, Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim is a survey of songs from Stephen Sondheim's career interspersed with songs that the great composer-lyricist has said he wishes he had written. (He prepared a list of such items for the Smithsonian Institution). Produced by Hugh Fordin and Wally Harper, Cook's Mostly Sondheim disc is an interesting bookend to the recording of her 1975 Carnegie Hall evening, in which she made her debut as a cabaret and concert singer. Does her voice sound exactly the same as it did then? Of course not; but it sounds amazing. The high B-natural in "Ice Cream" (She Loves Me) is still secure and ringing. Cook's tone is warm and lush, and her interpretations are as deep and introspective as anything she's recorded. Revelations include "I Wonder What Became of Me?" (St. Louis Woman), "I Got Lost In His Arms" (Annie Get Your Gun), and both "Happiness" and "Loving You" from Sondheim's Passion. "Send In The Clowns" (A Little Night Music) has never been more moving, and Cook's encore, "Anyone Can Whistle," is heartbreaking. Needless to say, her reading of "Losing My Mind" (Follies) remains definitive.
It's unfortunate that Cook's guest star, the talented Malcolm Gets, does not fare as well; the recording reveals major pitch problems in his "Something's Coming" and "Tonight" medley from West Side Story and in his duet with Cook on "Move On" (Sunday in the Park With George). To his credit, Gets sings "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods with beauty and sensitivity, and he impressively accompanies himself on the piano for "Another Hundred People" (Company) and "So Many People" (Saturday Night). In the latter number, his voice takes on a golden sheen that restores my faith in a performer I've admired for years.
Throughout the concert, the brilliant musical director-pianist Wally Harper plays with panache and great musicality, creating an orchestral sound with only the superb bass player John Beal to assist him. At the top of Cook and Gets' duet on "The Song Is You" (from Music In The Air), Cook's voice floats above Harper's gentle, tinkling piano, eliciting chills down one's spine--and, magically, it's 1975 all over again.
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