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Kate Lindsey: "Thousands of Miles"

CD Button Songs by Weill, Korngold, Alma Mahler and Zemlinsky. Trotignon, piano. Texts and translations. Alpha Classics 272

RECORDINGS Thousands of Miles Cover 917
Critics Choice Button 1015

KATE LINDSEY BRINGS a variety of vocal approaches to this recital, and almost all of them are effective. Thousands of Miles centers on Kurt Weill: the title refers not just to the song from Lost in the Stars but to the composer’s exile in America. It juxtaposes his songs with samples of his contemporary Erich Wolfgang Korngold and, from the preceding generation, Alma Mahler and Alexander von Zemlinsky. The net effect is that of a crash course in Weill and his milieu; we hear in the shifting chromaticisms of the three “classical” composers a taste of the modernism that infused Weill’s theater songs.

Lindsey succeeds on both sides of the divide, and her lyric mezzo-soprano sounds fresh and lovely throughout. The singing is beautifully scaled to the material: perhaps encouraged by the studio surroundings, Lindsey maintains an intimate sound. But there’s nothing miniaturized about the voice here; in fact, the overall impression is one of lushness, marked by a tight vibrato under firm interpretive control. Listen to the title phrase of “Lonely House”: when Lindsey opens up the vibrato on the word “house,” it signals that we’ve arrived at the song’s core musical motif. 

The shimmer in her voice makes it terrifically suited to the lieder on the disc. Alma Mahler’s meandering “Hymne” strikes me as the least interesting selection here; as if to compensate for its rhythmic stolidity, Lindsey lays on a good deal of breathy “expression.” But her luxurious treatment of Korngold’s “Schneeglöckchen,” in particular, ideally conjures the song’s falling-off-the-vine Romanticism.

She is every bit as good in the Weill songs, even as she adapts her manner to the showbizzy demands of the material. In a few instances she goes too far, as with the Sprechstimme baritone she employs in “Pirate Jenny,” in evident homage to Lotte Lenya, the most celebrated Weill interpreter of all. She takes a similar approach to “Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man,” from Mahagonny, although the trace of insinuation in her delivery evokes Marlene Dietrich as much as Lenya. Effective up to a point, these numbers flirt with camp: they almost sound like party tricks.

Lindsey’s real gifts can be heard when “Pirate Jenny” segues into the “Barbara-Song,” sung in her “natural” voice. The tone is as beguiling as in the lieder selections, but she never sounds like a classical singer bringing heavy artillery to the wrong battlefield. She calls to mind not just Teresa Stratas’s celebrated forays into Weill but, even more so, Dawn Upshaw’s. Lindsey has the same sense of proportion as Upshaw: she refuses to overwhelm the material with sound. Even the climactic wails of the Lost in the Stars torch song “Trouble Man,” for all their bluesy intensity, are delicately executed. 

Lindsey’s achievement in its purest form can be heard in “Don’t Look Now.” Stratas sang the song, from One Touch of Venus, as “Foolish Heart.” The present version, from the show’s benighted 1948 film adaptation, replaces Ogden Nash’s original lyric with one by Ann Ronell. Her tone bursting with love-struck joy, Lindsey makes a persuasive case for the alternative text; buttressed by Baptiste Trotignon’s buoyant piano-playing, she offers a musical portrait of a woman whose heart “flips and halts and turns somersaults.” 

Trotignon, a jazz pianist, plays the lieder straight, but he takes a freer hand with the Weill songs. While Lindsey adheres to the written vocal lines, Trotignon fills out the accompaniments with impressionistic, George Shearing-like riffs that explore Weill’s musical logic without distorting it. Although the musical manner postdates Weill’s era, the approach stays true to the composer’s cabaret roots.  —Fred Cohn 

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