Brad Mehldau / Anne Sofie von Otter

Love Songs

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American jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau and Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter pair up on this two-disc set of love songs. The first disc is devoted to Mehldau's Love Songs, a seven-song cycle commissioned by Carnegie Hall, KölnMusik, and Wigmore Hall. He takes as his texts five poems by Sara Teasdale and one each by e.e. cummings and Philip Larkin. Although the influence of American vernacular music is evident throughout, these are clearly not pop songs; they fit better in the "New American Art Song" category exemplified by composers like Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, and John Musto. Mehldau's songs are notable for their generous lyricism, subtly complex rhythmic drive, a gift for melody, and a potent emotional punch. Although they make a striking set all together and each song is fully successful, "Twilight" and "Dreams" are especially evocative and memorable. The texts describe a variety of romantic experiences, but Mehldau's settings are essentially positive and optimistic. Not so the majority of songs on the second disc, most of which have the character of profoundly melancholy torch songs. About half are French, by composers such as Michel Legrand, Jacques Brel, and Léo Ferré, and there are songs by Joni Mitchell (the heartbreaking "Marcie"), Bob Telson ("Calling You"), and Leonard Bernstein ("Some Other Time"), among others. Von Otter does not have the sound of a crossover artist, but she has the maturity and flexibility to being just the right looseness and expressive freedom to these songs to make her performances fully persuasive. Her tone is full and pure, and her investment in the songs is absolute. Mehldau's exceptionally sensitive and inventive accompaniments contribute immeasurably to the success of the album. The sound is appropriately warm and intimate, but is a little on the close side on the second disc.

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