The cabaret song recital is a corner of a corner of the classical music scene -- an event attended mostly by serious vocal music enthusiasts. This is too bad, for such recitals cross the conventional pop/classical boundary and provide the perfect opportunity to make an art song lover out of a fan of American and British pop standards (or, if the need arises, vice versa). The disc weaves together two such recitals by the offbeat English mezzo soprano Sarah Walker and veteran accompanist Roger Vignoles, recorded live in 1982 and 1988. They are sterling examples of the form, with Gershwin, Vernon Duke, Charles Ives, and Benjamin Britten all resting comfortably side by side on the program. Several of the songs are very funny (Walker breaks the audience up in these), and all are intelligently chosen: Gershwin's parodies of European song forms (By Strauss, The Jolly Jack Tar, and The Lorelei -- she had a most immoral eye!) are all here, while from the "classical" side Britten (with his collaborator W.H. Auden) and Ives play off popular song genres of their own times. George and Ira Gershwin are represented by nine songs here, and Walker shows herself a superior interpreter of their music, especially for a non-American. She pronounces the letter "r" like an American, with tongue rolled up so that its tip is way back in the mouth. She does not try to sound like a Broadway singer, but she gets the rhythmic freedom of Gershwin's lines, which ought to sound like they were being blown by a jazz saxophonist or trumpeter -- and if a singer does that, she can be as operatic as she likes. Sample her natural treatment of the chorus in The Man I Love, track 2. One key feature of a good cabaret song recital is the unearthing of obscure gems, in which category Gershwin's The Half of It Dearie Blues and Britten's Tell Me the Truth About Love certainly fall. Even more unusual are the four 20-second settings of Dorothy Parker epigrams by Margaret Mallory and English jazz pianist John Dankworth's piquant realization of Spike Milligan's indictment of English Teeth (Three cheers for the Brown, Grey, and Black!). The only complaints are incidental. One recital apparently encouraged audience applause throughout, while the other held it for section breaks, and since material from the two concerts is intertwined, the applause appears at disconcertingly random intervals. The copy received for review was also missing half its printed song texts, but that doesn't matter -- with diction and directness like Walker's, you won't need them. Recommended to anyone who likes light song recitals or Gershwin, or to any singer looking for some great crowd pleasers to spice up a concert of her or his own.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim