Dianne Reeves and Simon Rattle: "Ravel Meets Gershwin"
Works by Gershwin, Fauré, Ravel. With Martin, Rogers, Hutchinson. Berliner Philharmoniker. EuroArts 2053648,
91 mins., no subtitles
Filmed in Berlin at a New Year's Eve gala in 2003, Ravel Meets Gershwin is, for the most part, a pops concert, and as these go, a superior one. Gershwin is represented through his songs and one overture (Strike Up the Band), Ravel by La Valse and the Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, with Fauré's Pavane oddly thrown into the mix. The stated aim is to emphasize the links between the two early-twentieth-century masters ("Why be a second-rate Ravel," the French composer once asked his idolatrous American counterpart, "when you are already a first-rate Gershwin?"); but one of Ravel's jazzier compositions, such as Concerto in G, probably would have drawn the parallel more effectively. Nonetheless, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic give ravishing accounts of the Fauré and Ravel pieces here, plus a spirited though orchestrally inflated version of the Strike Up the Band overture, which was originally scored for a much smaller Broadway pit band.
The highlight of the concert is vocal soloist Dianne Reeves performing the Gershwin songs. Reeves is that rare bird, a jazz singer who gives as much weight to the words as to the music. Although she's a true song stylist who can riff and scat with the best of them, she also makes every lyric tell — not just by way of her diamond-clear diction but through heartfelt phrasing that shows she knows what she's singing about. It's no wonder she's won four Grammy Awards, with her unforgettable soundtrack for George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck a particular standout.
Reeves gets off to a somewhat shaky start with "By Strauss," which, as a Viennese waltz send-up, is not a song she was born to do. That's clear from her somewhat timid, tentative performance. But you can see her entire bearing relax when she settles into "How Long Has This Been Going On," sung here with its witty, rarely heard verse. "Nice Work If You Can Get It" shows off Reeves's plush voice against an equally plush symphonic arrangement. (The uncredited orchestrations are reminiscent of blockbuster film scores of the '50s and '60s, which is not a bad thing.) Reeves returns after La Valse to sing "Embraceable You" in a scoring that interweaves the orchestra with her own excellent bass-piano-drums combo, consisting of Reuben Rogers, Peter Martin and Greg Hutchinson. It's a slow, smoky rendition that exploits both ends of her considerable range. She follows this with an infectious "'S Wonderful" and ends her set with "A Foggy Day," which includes a sensational scat segment that draws Reeves into a series of lively, jazzy duets with some of the Berlin Philharmonic's string soloists. Germany has had a great jazz tradition ever since the '20s, and it really shows here.
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