Yesterday the Talisker Players ventured into new territory for them with a program of Irving Berlin songs entitled Puttin’ on the Ritz. I’m no expert on Broadway in general or Tin Pan Alley in particular but, I suppose like most people, I’ve been exposed to a lot of this music through TV and films. The Talisker presentation was interesting and unusual in that they employed a string quartet and two classically trained singers rather than a dance band or a pianist and voices from a different tradition.
The arrangements for string quartet, by cellist, Laura Jones, were sophisticated and playful and created a sort of laid back feel; think Palm Court orchestra on steroids, quite different from the more rhytmically intense feel of a dance band, but not inappropriate and curiously evocative of how these songs might have sounded in the 20s and 30s, before singers were miked. The singers too contributed to this in rather different ways. Tenor Bud Roach, an early music specialist, sounded the more “Broadway” of the too. His diction was good enough to be fully intelligible through the very resonant acoustic of the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre. That’s no mean feat. Mezzo Whitney O’Hearn took a different approach, singing with a very full, creamy tone. I’d describe it as an “English” sound; not so much perhaps because of any real nod to my homeland but rather it’s the kind of sound one hears for this music in films set in England in the era. The celebration ball in Ian McKellen’s Richard III comes to mind. It took me a couple of songs to calibrate to the souns but I ended up really liking it, even if sometimes the beauty of tone was at the expense of clarity of text.
Most of the concert was sung off music stands but some numbers were sort of semi-staged. Sometimes that worked rather well as in Mr. Roach’s Top Hat where all that was missing was a line of naked ladies for him to prance in front of. The excerpts from Annie Get Your Gun were fun too with Ms. O’Hearn dropping the Vera lynn voice for something a bit more demotic. The dance numbers were a very good argument for the recent practice of including dance training in classical singers’ education. And then there was the dress Ms. O’Hearn wore in the first half of the programme; an eau de Nil number with a high waist and a silver chain belt. A lot of ladies of my acquaintance would kill to bring off that look so effectively. I wish I had a photo. (ETA – Well now I do)
So, it’s not really my music but I enjoyed it as much as the rest of a packed Trinity St. Paul’s I think. The show is repeated on Tuesday at 8pm.