A Theatre Shelf reader, in a comment to the column on Kate Baldwin’s album of songs by Sheldon Harnick, said she really liked collections devoted to one composer or lyricist. I resolved to include more of them in future columns. This week I got the opportunity when Ghostlight Records released a delicious collection of Michel Legrand songs sung by Melissa Errico backed by a 100-member orchestra playing new orchestrations by M. Legrand.
The more you know about a lovely piece of work the more you can appreciate it. That is one reason why the text in a CD’s booklet is so important to those who want to delve into a recording, not just listen to it.
This new album could well have come with a forty-eight page book with lyrics, details on the recording process, explanations of the orchestrations and the process by which it all came together. Instead, its paltry twelve page booklet wastes half its surface on snapshots and art photos, the relevance of which goes unexplained.
This is a pity both because the music on the disc is beautiful beyond measure and because the story of how this compilation took six years to get into the stores is worth the telling. It is only hinted at in Ms. Errico’s two page “musing” about the time she and M. Legrand spent trying to plan an album of his work. She tells you that was in February of 2005. Then M. Legrand went off to write the orchestrations for the songs they had chosen. So how come the result is only now getting into our hands?
Apparently it wasn’t M. Legrand’s fault. His orchestrations were ready in time for the orchestra tracks to be recorded under his direction in July, 2005 in Leuven, Belgium. That was so long ago that the orchestra’s name wasn’t even the same as it is today. Then it was the Flemish Radio Orchestra, a 100-member symphonic orchestra. Now it is The Brussels Philharmonic.
The vocal recording for “Once Upon a Summertime” was done in New York in September of 2005 but the rest of the vocal tracks were laid down in New Jersey in 2009.
Why the four year delay between recording the orchestra and the vocals? Apparently, it wasn’t just the result of the busy schedules these successful people had. It was, instead, the arrival of three children into the family of Ms. Errico and her husband, former tennis star Patrick McEnroe.
Pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting prevented the completion of the project but the results were worth waiting for. There is a compatibility of sensibility between vocalist and composer/orchestrator/conductor that permeates the entire 16 song disc.
It seems that Ms. Errico and M. Legrand formed a friendship in 2002 when she starred in the only full musical by the French composer to reach Broadway, the rather unorthodox “Amour” for which he was nominated for the Best Score Tony and she a Best Actress in a Musical Tony. While the show ran only two weeks, it remains strong in the minds of those fortunate enough to have seen it. I, for one, cherish the memory of hearing Ms. Errico sing “Other People’s Stories” on the night I attended and I was so very pleased when Ghostlight records released an Original Broadway Cast recording (ASIN: B0000A1HSI).
This new album starts out as something of a survey of Legrand’s greatest movie songs. Songs from 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair,” 1970’s “Wuthering Heights” and 1971’s “Summer of ’42” wash over you from speakers or earphones with a familiarity built of decades of familiarity, but with such tender affection they feel more whispered into your ear without mechanical assistance.
Part of the reason for this unaccountable effect is Errico’s hushed tones as if she combines an awe at the creations of the composer and a deep love of whomever she is singing to. Of course, it helps that, when I’m the one listening on speakers or earphones, she has an audience that has been under her spell for at least fifteen years. That was when I saw her, as lamentably miscast as she was, charm the heck out of the audience at a poorly conceived Broadway mounting of Cole Porter’s “High Society.”
The flood of lush movie songs is followed by a new Legrand piece with lyrics by long-time Legrand collaborators Alan and Marilyn Bergman titled “In Another Life.” They compiled a chain of poetic similes describing the alternative environment in which a love affair might have a different ending.
“In another life / on a different shore / in another room / with a different door.
In another place / in a distant part / with the different beat / of another heart.
In another time / when our eyes are dry / in another life / there’d be no goodbye.”
Legrand has devised a sliding repetition that climbs to a crescendo as his orchestration trickles down like the collected droplets on a misty window. Errico’s singing is so tender and so lovely, one just has to hope someone makes a romantic movie for which it could serve as the appropriate theme song.
Not all the lyrics on this album are by the Bergmans. Johnny Mercer’s wonderful “Once Upon a Summertime” is probably the best of the others but there’s also Norman Gimbel’s setting of Legrand’s theme for “The Umbrella’s of Cherboug,” “I Will Wait For You.”
Whoever wrote the words – in English or in French as on the tracks “Dis Moi” and “Celui-La” – it is the music here that is most enchanting. In Errico’s hushed intimacy and LeGrand’s soft orchestral sweep, this is a lovely album.