Michael Feinstein

Over There

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In the second half of the 1980s, Michael Feinstein made a name for himself as a kind of revitalized nightclub entertainer with an academic bent. As a former secretary to Ira Gershwin, he delighted not only in performing songs from the Great American Songbook, but also liked to throw in alternate verses discovered on scraps of paper in crumbling archives; he was as much song detective as singer. As such, the retrieval project offered him one night in 1987 by record producer Patti Laursen was irresistible: to do new recordings of some obscure 1901 art songs composed by Arnold Schoenberg. In other words, she wanted him to do something even more arcane than what he was doing already. Naturally, he jumped at the chance. (His recording company, Elektra Records, jumped the other way, graciously allowing the Angel classical division of EMI to handle the album.) Pianist Armen Guzelimian was enlisted to accompany Feinstein in this recital. The resulting disc, Over There, subtitled "Songs of War and Peace c. 1900-1920 by Berlin, Cohan, Lehár, Schoenberg, Weill and many more," is actually two different collections of material stuck together. First up is a batch of Tin Pan Alley songs and show tunes associated with World War I, including "Over There," "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (but not, sadly, "Mademoiselle from Armentieres [Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo]"). This material justifies the album title and the cover photograph of Feinstein in World War I uniform. It is alternately stirring, funny, and sentimental. Halfway into the record, the time and the scene change, back to the turn of the century and Vienna for songs like Lehár's "Yours Is My Heart Alone." Then, in tracks 17-22, come the Schoenberg songs, with English lyrics by Michael Feingold. (That's Feingold, not Feinstein. Michael Feingold, when he's not doing translations, is the theater critic for the Village Voice.) The music doesn't much suggest the innovations Schoenberg would introduce later. The most notable of the songs is "The Sufficient Lover," if only because of its risqué lyrics. The album closes with three never-before-recorded songs composed by a young Kurt Weill. Feingold, in his liner notes, suggests that the most striking of them, "Riders' Song," was written when Weill was only 15. Feinstein, the singer, handles them well, as he does all the semi-classical material, even if it is, in effect, appended to an album of songs from the Great War.

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