On the Beat

On the Beat

Nicole Cabell makes her own kind of music in a Delos recording of classic French works; Lance Horne’s birthday party at Birdland.

On the Beat cabell lg 1115
Cabell’s Salut à la France
© Devon Cass 2015

NICOLE CABELL possesses one of the most recognizable voices around today. For the past couple of months, I’ve spent several hours listening to Chanson d’Avril, her new Delos CD of songs by Bizet, Duparc, Liszt and Ravel. In several of the pieces — especially in the Liszt set — she seems just a shade away from establishing a really potent emotional connection to the music; still, this is a recording that gives much pleasure. I was a little dubious about hearing Cabell perform Ravel’s Shéhérazade with piano accompaniment; fortunately, her pianist is CRAIG TERRY, who is adept at conjuring up a wide range of orchestral colors. “We both loved the game of ‘How far can we go with this?’” Cabell said in a recent telephone interview. “It wouldn’t have worked with some pianists. But if you know that this is where the horns have their solo, this is where the woodwinds or violins are focused, it helps.”

Shéhérazade, of course, has a distinguished recorded history; the greatest performance of it I’ve ever heard is RÉGINE CRESPIN’s on the classic recording with ERNEST ANSERMET leading L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Cabell loves listening to recordings, but she avoided steeping herself in Crespin’s interpretation. “You aspire to have some of the magic of these amazing singers,” she says, “but it’s futile to try to compare yourself. Some of these people are just miracles as artists. You take that away and try to learn as much as you can and develop your own style.” She finds that her own dark, luxuriant sound has occasionally flummoxed listeners who are looking for something specific and familiar in a given role. “I’m not innocent of this, either,” she admits. “I come to hear something that I’ve heard a lot from great singers on recording, and I cannot shake what I’ve come to believe it sounds like, stylistically as well as vocally. It’s a weird thing — people respect my sound, but sometimes they also try to beat it out of me. Like Traviata, which I’ve had a success with in some places and mixed success in others, because everyone has a very specific opinion. So you show up, do your job and try not to read too much — especially now with the internet, where there are too many opinions for you to pay attention.” How does she deal with the range of hysterical rants that constitute an online epidemic and often threaten to drown out any serious discourse? “Some of the blogs are legitimate, but a lot of them are not representative of the audience — even though a lot of people are saying that they are. But how many people in the audience are really going home and writing a blog?”

Cabell jumped to fame as the 2005 Winner of the BBC Singer of the World Competition. “I’m still surprised that the judges and audience thought I was good enough for that competition,” she says. “I didn’t really pack an appropriate dress for the finals, because I thought pigs would fly before I would get that far, let alone win. So what I had was a little black dress. I still think about it being this confusing mystery. It changed everything for me.” 

THE VENERABLE NEW YORK club Birdland offers a series of informal Monday-night shows spotlighting top New York talent. On October 20, the club presented “Lance and the Ladies,” a showcase for the songs of rising composer LANCE HORNE on the occasion of his birthday. I was drawn to it partly because I thought any evening that featured DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA, LAUREN FLANIGAN and LESLEY GORE sounded like — well, like a lot of fun. 

What ensued was an evening that veered all over the map, often to the point of annoyance. I can’t quite figure out Horne’s appeal. Many of his songs, such as “I Hate The Little Prince” and  “Haircut,” wind up being one-joke numbers that don’t really go anywhere. He’s much better when he aims for something with emotional depth, such as “Orpheus,” which received a compelling performance at Birdland by Rubin-Vega. But what bothered me about this show, much more than the unevenness of the numbers, was the way in which it was presented. There was almost no context for the songs, and too many of the performers seriously overestimated their own pizzazz factor. Horne (who, in fairness, had taken the red-eye from California the night before) needs to work on his hosting skills: I wanted him to land on something and really talk about it, rather than careening from one parenthetical observation to another. Several of his performers had the same problem, most offensively the lyricist/comedienne KATE RIGG, whose lengthy preamble to a poem she had written especially for Horne seemed a study in A.D.D. There were some fine performances to take away, however — chief among them GABRIELLE STRAVELLI’s “Hurry Up and Take Your Time,” which sounded like a spoof of a lot of those sultry nightclub numbers in late ’50s movies; STEPHANIE D’ABRUZZO’s hilarious take on a rage aria, “Unsex Me Here”; and, best of all, JULIE GARNYE’s “Last Day on Earth,” which showed off many facets of her superb voice. It’s also one of Horne’s best songs, because he avoids the preachy and ham-handed, making familiar sentiments seem fresh. 

CLASSICAL ACTION’S MICHAEL PALM SERIES is a collection of private house concerts dedicated to raising money to support people with AIDS. This season, two prominent singers will be heard in the series. On February 19, LUCA PISARONI performs in recital, followed by SUSAN GRAHAM on April 2. Both events will be held at the Tribeca home of SIMON YATES and KEVIN ROON. For more information, call Classical Action at 212-997-7717. spacer 

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