Inspired by Schubert's "Winter Journey," musical theater composer Maury Yeston wrote his song cycle December Songs, ten romantic ballads, and it was premiered by Andrea Marcovicci at the Weill Recital Hall in New York City in 1991. Marcovicci recorded it as an album in 1992, and Metropolitan Opera star Harolyn Blackwell gave it another recording on her 1994 album Strange Hurt, pairing the relatively brief collection with songs from Ricky Ian Gordon's Genius Child. In 2003, five of the songs were featured on the various-artists album The Maury Yeston Songbook. French singer Isabelle Georges, who appeared in the European premiere of Yeston's musical Titanic in 2000, is co-billed with pianist Stan Cramer on this recording of the material. Yeston, who co-produced the album, wrote a new song, "Strange," for Georges to use as an encore in live performances of December Songs, but it introduces the cycle here. In effect, this is really two different albums on one disc, since Georges sings the songs in English and then repeats them (just the original ten) in French. December Songs is, as might be expected, a wistful work. Yeston's background in the musical theater certainly comes through in the sense of character and the suggestions of stories in the songs, but the cycle does not add up to a single plot, nor do the songs necessarily seem to be sung by a single female character. But the sensibility is consistent, as the singer alternately longs for romance and fears it, when she isn't recalling a past love or reflecting on other sentimental subjects. The music is more substantial and inventive than the lyrics, although one can easily imagine one of these songs turning up in a theatrical production. Georges has a warm, expressive voice, and she negotiates English effectively except when the tempo picks up and the lyrics get more numerous, such as in "Where Are You Now?" and "I Had a Dream About You." Then, her accent becomes more noticeable and her interpretations less sure. The English-language versions feature added instruments, although not many. When Georges turns to the French versions (with translations by Boris Bergman), she becomes much more comfortable, and Cramer becomes her only accompanist. This second half of the disc is very much the superior one even if, for the English speaker, it is less comprehensible.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|December Songs, song cycle|