Kiri Te Kanawa

Kiri Sings Berlin

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Having previously recorded Kiri Sings Gershwin, Kiri Sings Kern, and Kiri Sings Porter, opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa is no stranger to the repertoire of American show music songwriters of the first half of the 20th century. On Kiri Sings Berlin, she benefits greatly from the efforts of arranger/conductor Jonathan Tunick, who has taken as his model the orchestral approach of such predecessors as Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins for albums by the likes of Frank Sinatra in the 1950s. The ballads are awash in strings, and the rhythm numbers like "Blue Skies" employ a version of a swing-style big band with horns. This is not the Irving Berlin of the 1920s, as heard on Broadway and in Tin Pin Alley. It is the Berlin rediscovered by the traditional pop singers of a later generation, then further refined in the voice of a New Zealand opera singer another 40 years down the line. It's Berlin at a couple of removes, then, but that still might work if the singer brought any emotional commitment to the material. That's what the traditional pop singers did with it, finding depths of feeling in songs sometimes written for light musicals. And Te Kanawa has deliberately chosen some of Berlin's most direct expressions of romantic sentiment, such as "Always," and even his most melancholy song, "What'll I Do?" She obviously has the pipes to handle the relatively simple music, but she does not bring any real feeling to the words. Since the timbre of her voice is so similar to that of Broadway and cabaret singer Barbara Cook's, you can't help noticing the difference in interpretation. Cook could break your heart with these songs; Te Kanawa won't make you forget your grocery list. She is so tentative that it sometimes seems questionable whether she's going to get to the end of the song, but even that doesn't lend vulnerability to her renditions. She just doesn't seem to have spent any time thinking about what the songs are about and how she can convey that. She takes it for granted that they are trite and only to be had "fun" with. Berlin's music is durable enough to survive practically all interpretations, and it holds its own here, but not because of the singer. -- William Ruhlmann

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 2:08 Amazon
2 3:12 Amazon
3 2:39 Amazon
4 3:45 Amazon
5 2:38 Amazon
6 3:09 Amazon
7 2:39 Amazon
8 3:25 Amazon
9 3:25 Amazon
10 3:02 Amazon
11 4:27 Amazon
12 3:08 Amazon
13 2:49 Amazon
14 2:10 Amazon
15 3:08
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