Rich vocal interpretations by one of the greatest mezzo-sopr
Classic Music Lover | Maryland, USA | 08/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A living legend today at age 94+, Rise Stevens in her recording days was among the first "crossover" artists -- and also one of the most successful. She was very effective in singing these popular American standards, while never compromising her essentially operatic approach to the music. As a result, many of the songs achieved a new level of sophistication and polish.
This compilation comes from a series of albums she recorded for Columbia and RCA Victor in the mid-1940s through early 1950s (pay no attention to the sloppy annotations on the CD booklet which cite later recording years for many of the songs than were the actual dates). As is so often the case with recordings made in this era, the quality of the orchestral arrangements can make a big difference in the overall effectiveness of the performances. By this measure, it is clear that the arrangements by Alan Shulman of the Jerome Kern and Cole Porter songs recorded by Columbia are far more sophisticated and interesting than the Victor Herbert songs conducted by Frank Black recorded for RCA. Rise Stevens turns each of the Kern/Porter songs into its own special musical adventure ... while in the Herbert numbers, we can give her credit for at least making a valiant effort! But in the end, the Herbert song arrangements haven't held up well at all, and are simply unpalatable to 21st Century ears. (The "I Can't Do the Sum" number is probably the most grating example -- program your CD player to skip over this one entirely.) Instead of most of the Herbert numbers, it's too bad the producers didn't track down additional Shulman-arranged material that remains in the Sony vaults, including a rendition of Irving Berlin's "They Say it's Wonderful" that's the best sung version I've ever heard.
Throughout this CD, Rise Stevens informs these songs with poignancy and style -- and she sings with a special focus on what the lyrics actually "mean" -- which of course gives her renditions added effect. A special bonus at the close of the CD is two selections from a circa-1951 RCA album recorded with Robert Merrill -- "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "You and the Night and the Music" -- sung to maximum effect by two stars who collaborated in many a Met Opera performance, accompanied by the Ted Dale Orchestra and Singers.
Finally, a word on the recording quality. It sounds like this reissue was made using vinyl records as the source (not 78s, thank goodness ... but then again not the original tape masters either). The result: you'll hear some surface distortion in the louder passages on some of the songs, but thankfully no needle scratches. The transfers aren't really bad at all if you have any sort of forgiving ear.
If you like Rise Stevens, or are just curious about sampling some of the classier crossover material that was being produced 50-60 years ago, this is a very good CD to acquire ... along with a similar one of different Stevens material released by Sony Special Products (Critics Choice series) a number of years ago. As none of these recordings has made it to CD before now, your only way to hear them otherwise is on old early vinyl or shellac recordings with the attendant surface noise and scratches."
Rise Stevens in Song
Thomas H. Israel | Lebanon, PA | 11/10/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"What a fine compilation this is! Those who own the Collector's Choice CD of Rise Stevens' "Pop Side" will find very little duplication here. Some of these recordings were made in the era of 78s; however, the transfer is quite excellent. Rise's fans will certainly enjoy this one!"