Now the baritone Ian Bostridge, whose elaborately nuanced albums of Schubert lieder have been rightly admired, has taken it upon himself to record "The Noel Coward Songbook" (EMI Classics), complete with such familiar songs as "Poor Little Rich Girl," "A Room With a View," "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "I Travel Alone." "Here is melodic invention but also melodic, and implicitly, harmonic subtlety," Bostridge observes in his liner notes. "The tunes are catchy but their precise twists and turns are nevertheless difficult to get quite right." He goes on to cite Coward's "post- Great-War grittiness, which reminded me of one of my favorite German composers, [Kurt Weill]." As if to prove the point, Bostridge has chosen to sing tart, jagged and sometimes astringently dissonant arrangements of Coward songs by Corin Buckeridge, played by Jeffrey Tate.
The best crossover record that has come my way in recent days is "[Anne Sofie von Otter] Sings Offenbach" (Deutsche Grammophon). Offenbach, best known now for his grand opera "Tales of Hoffmann" and the delicious potpourri of tunes that Manuel Rosenthal combined into the balletic confection known as "Gaite Parisienne," wrote dozens of operettas, stage pieces, songs -- indeed, about 600 different works. His music is witty, melodious and unfailingly well- crafted; von Otter gives us generous selections from "La Grande- Duchesse de Gerolstein," "La Belle Helene," "La Vie Parisienne" and "La Fille du Tambour-Major," as well as the celebrated "Barcarolle," accompanied by the Musiciens du Louvre, under the direction of Mark Minkowski.
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