I don’t do music here very often, but sometimes the mood strikes, and the theater geek in me comes out. Here are a couple CDs I’ve been listening to lately. “Liza Minnelli: Live at the Winter Garden” comes out this week. “The Trumpet of the Swan” has been out for a while, but I just finally got to it.
“Liza Minnelli: Live at the Winter Garden” (Sony Masterworks): Liza Minnelli is still a powerhouse personality, even if her voice isn’t what it used to be. But in 1974, when this recording was made, she was near the height of her vocal prowess, and it shows on every song. Combining the vocal vulnerability of her mother (Judy Garland) with an extra brassy belt, Minnelli offers up a great selection of songs that goes beyond just showtunes. Yes, there are plenty of those, including her signature “Cabaret” and others by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who also wrote material especially for the show, but there’s also an ebullient take on Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” for instance. And a slightly jazzy spin on Steve Wonder’s “You and I” is included in the three bonus tracks not part of the original release. The other two are great versions of the standards “It Had to Be You” and “My Shining Hour.” Meanwhile, there’s a pleasant giddiness in the bits of onstage chatter. She’s young (27) and still fresh, and when she does hit “Cabaret,” she’s basking in the glow of the enthusiastic audience. I’ve always liked Minnelli well enough but never considered her one of my divas. But this recording will get some regular rotation. GRADE: B+
“The Trumpet of the Swan” (ps classics): Jason Robert Brown’s adaptation of the classic E.B. White novel is a sort of “Peter and the Wolf” for a new generation. Brown is known as a songwriter both on Broadway and off (his “Stars and the Moon” sung by Audra McDonald gets me every time I hear it), but here he simply provides the orchestral background for a narrated telling of the story written by playwright, novelist and musical book writer Marsha Norman. It’s an absolute delight with readings by John Lithgow, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Mandy Moore, Martin Short and more. They infuse great character in the piece over a lovely symphonic score by Brown. It’s a pity “Trumpet” doesn’t have the wide popularity of White’s “Charlotte’s Web”; I think I enjoyed the story a bit more, at least after this recording. It’s about a trumpeter swan, Louis (whose thoughts are voice by Feguson of “Modern Family”), who’s born without a voice. He becomes friends with a human boy, Sam (Lithgow narrating), and finds a voice through a trumpet. Like “Charlotte’s Web,” it’s fun, silly and wise. But Brown’s score is remarkable, with a great sense of mood and pace. It fits right up there with Sergei Prokofiev’s classic “Peter and the Wolf” and would make an amazing double bill for a children’s concert. I hope someone from the DSO is reading. GRADE: A-