Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Sheer Freshness: Barbara Cook Records an Album of Sheer Freshness

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Sheer Freshness: Barbara Cook Records an Album of Sheer Freshness

Article excerpt

There is more than passing poignancy to the musical broth that Barbara Cook is brewing on her latest CD, No One Is Alone. The title itself might appear to be a comforting truism, yet in this instance, it is pointedly relevant. Because for the past three years, despite the energetic support of friends and intrepid musical bolstering she has received, she has been very much alone, bereft of her friend and accompanist Wally Harper. He had played beside her for the three decades as she established herself as the great lady of American musical theatre of the late 20th century. Harper, a sunny performer and composer in his own right, passed away in October 2004.

With her new musical director/arranger/ pianist Eric Stern performing admirably, Cook sounds as fresh and alive as ever, even as she approaches the age of 80 in September.

Her latest album is sheer freshness. Not one number among the 15 on this CD is a repeat. She's mined the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook previously, along with Bernstein, Comden and Green, and - most notably Sondheim. Perhaps she's performed some of these numbers in concert before. But in terms of originality, this CD is priceless.

No One Is Alone features a half-dozen of Stephen Sondheim's compositions. Moreover, the other songwriters included are only a few degrees from him. Richard Rodgers (Sondheim's musical partner for Do I Hear A Waltz?) and Oscar Hammerstein II (neighbor and surrogate father to young Stephen) together or separately - are responsible for another three songs. The grand finale "Make Our Garden Grow" is a Leonard Bernstein composition from Candide.

But back to Barbara. Rarely has her voice sounded better: rich, full-blooded, nuanced, varied and hauntingly accessible. She opens with her take on Bernstein and Sondheim's "Something's Coming," a dreamier version than usual. But the pace soon picks up. She becomes wistful once more in "Never-Never Land," from Peter Pan, the mid-1950s Styne/Comden/Green show that starred Mary Martin. Then, adopting a staccato delivery that shifts into a vocal strut, she brings in Rodgers and Hammerstein with "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma! After a medley of "Long Before I Knew You," from Bells Are Ringing by Styne, Comden and Green, and the little-known "I Fall in Love Too Easily," from Anchors Aweigh, a Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn collaboration, Cook turns jaunty with "Nobody Else But Me," a less-familiar yet sprightly tune from Kern/Hammerstein's Show Boat. Few singers can be as jaunty as Cook. …

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