CD Review: SONDHEIM SUBLIME (Melissa Errico)

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by Tony Frankel on November 22, 2018



Both Sondheim and sublimity are promised and delivered in Melissa Errico’s newest album. Her emotional, authentic, stirring, gracious, sophisticated interpretations of 15 Sondheim tunes are delivered with her delicate, dulcet, relaxed, pleasant, unpretentious, murmuring warble of a vibrato. Refinement, subtlety, and shadings are ever-present here, even in songs that are not always thought of as ballads, such as “Sooner or Later” (Dick Tracy).

Clearly, Errico’s goal is to tell each song as a story, which is probably why she avoids all of those songs with complex, tongue-twisting, lyrics, slowing down for an introspective glance into his most-covered tunes: “Send in the Clowns,” “Losing My Mind,” and “Loving You” among them. A Little Night Music‘s “The Miller’s Son” is a perfect vehicle for all of her gifts, in addition to being one of the few songs that really moves — ironic, given that the tune is also a ballad interrupted by a driving impetus in the up-tempo, non-rubato sections. In Errico’s incredibly smart and funny notes, she let’s us know that she’s not going for the “sly, satiric” Stephen Sondheim; her goal is to tap into the meaning within Sondheim’s many caesuras — those breaks, or sense pauses, in his songs — which she does successfully. And at almost 60 minutes, it’s a very generous collection.

In Adam Gopnik’s detailed liner notes explaining Errico’s allure and her choices for this record, he notes that the first grouping of songs are about love, the second half about love’s lessons. To aid this inward inspection of the work — and her well-thought out phrasing — Errico has enlisted one of the most receptive and perceptive pianists on the scene, Tedd Firth, who arranged most of the tracks, and plays for all of them. (While Errico performed these songs as a cabaret act, I’m thrilled that this was recorded in a studio so that applause doesn’t harm the mood.)

Firth’s sensitive, loving style is exquisite, but it does get a bit one-note for one long album listen. Wisely, three songs come from three other arrangers, but that doesn’t helpĀ to break up the consistent lento feel of the album, a sameness which is the only drawback here, because we don’t get to watch the great actress at work. “I Remember Sky,” while sung in a steady ballad tempo, has the addition of jazzy bossa nova piano, bass (David Finck) and maracas (Joe Bonadio), but Andy Ezrin’s arrangement doesn’t mesh with the lyrics’ bittersweet message. The maracas return with the piano’s soft-syncopation in Rob Mathes’s take on “Not While I’m Around,” but this is where the album could have sped up tempo. At least John Oddo’s take on “With so Little to Be Sure Of” doesn’t feel out of place in this collection; it’s a quiet, reflective, graceful take on a song which usually gets belted.

As promised, this isn’t the Sondheim to get your blood pumping, and the song choices will be so familiar to any of the slightest Sondheim fanatics out there that it may border on languor for some. But if you’re willing to take this haunting and loving melancholia on its own terms, “Marry Me a Little” will stir you, “Goodbye for Now” will touch you, “Children Will Listen” will move and excite you, “No More” will inspire you, and “Children and Art” may just wreck you.

Sondheim Sublime
Melissa Errico
Ghostlight Records
released November 2, 2018 | 15 tracks | 59:02
available at Amazon and iTunes

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