Love Sublime

Renée Fleming / Brad Mehldau

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Love Sublime Review

by Blair Sanderson

Composer and pianist Brad Mehldau is admired by jazz aficionados for his work with his eponymous trio, and soprano Renée Fleming is internationally renowned for her operatic performances and recitals of classical art songs. Knowing this, one might think that Love Sublime, Mehldau's and Fleming's 2006 release on Nonesuch, is a crossover album; yet while they are meant to appeal to a broad audience, Mehldau's original settings of poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke, Louise Bogan, and Fleurine are serious modern art songs, and not the easy hybrids of jazz and classical they may appear to be. Mehldau's musical language is difficult to define, and his fluid, changeable songs resist easy comparisons: one may hear a little of Charles Ives' moody tone-painting here, a bit of Francis Poulenc's jaunty rhythms there, or touches of Ned Rorem's prosody elsewhere, but these are incidental features that can be found in many contemporary songs. Similarly, some of the harmonies may seem to spring from Mehldau's jazz work, and his handling of tonality and generally spare piano accompaniments at times may reflect an improvisational origin; but to single out such characteristics gives the impression that Mehldau's music is purposely eclectic, which it is not. The elements of these songs are so well integrated, it is clear that they have an organic consistency, and any surface eclecticism is probably unintentional and beside the point. Furthermore, Mehldau has internalized the words and his musical ideas thoroughly, so they are quite apt, and sound utterly natural and unaffected. In terms of the performance, Fleming is sympathetic to Mehldau's introspective idiom: she reflects the austerity of his accompaniment in her controlled tone, and communicates the rather melancholy lyrics with pensive expression and subdued coloration. This is a thoughtful performance, and Fleming and Mehldau are content to let the words and music speak for themselves; their understated delivery urges the listener to follow the texts closely -- a good idea, considering the subtle nuances of the poetry. Nonesuch provides clean, naturally resonant sound.

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