Claire Martin - Witchcraft - Remote Goat Blog

26 February 2012
Remote Goat Blog
Tim Mottershead

Richard Rodney Bennett, who turned 75 last year, has had a career which includes the composition of numerous scores for both concert hall and cinema, pianism of various kinds, and collaborations with many very varied artistes. Equally at home (and equally successful) in all of these genres, he now perhaps derives the most pleasure from his long partnership with jazz singer Claire Martin. The pair closed Buxton Opera House's Four Four Time festival with an evening largely devoted to the songs of Irving Berlin, in the intimate setting of the Pavilion Arts Centre.

In keeping with informal, cabaret style seating, and low lighting, the pair announced the items verbally as they occurred; quite properly keeping these introductions brief in order to present as many songs as possible. Nevertheless, the evening was packed with informative comments, and although Berlin penned numerous hits amongst some 1500 songs, in a thoughtfully constructed programme, we were treated to a number of less well-known items in addition to the expected classics.

The first two songs featured the joint vocals of both artists, beginning with a classy rendition of Putting on the Ritz. We then heard the two singers solo. Firstly Claire in low voice in Get Thee Behind Me Satan underpinned by a searching pianism worthy of Bill Evans; then Richard who provided his own nifty piano accompaniment to Change Partners. Richard explained how some of Berlin's biggest hits were actually tunes originally consigned to his bottom drawer (so the story goes) at a period in his career when he was convinced he couldn't write any more, such as the 1932 song Say it isn't So delivered by Richard in a voice almost like a whisper.

In the first half Claire also sang some of Berlin's best known items. Her haunting performance of What'll I Do? was beautifully complemented by an outstanding accompaniment, whilst Cheek To Cheek was given a groovy jazz twist in Richard's arrangement. Perhaps the finest performance of the first set was Steppin' Out with My Baby, a superb rendition worthy its dedication to Tony Bennett. And before one knew it the first half closed with a stomping rendition of When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'...and 50 minutes had gone by!

The second half presented 5 more Irving Berlin songs including Let's Face The Music And Dance (with an excellent syncopated accompaniment); the humorous why is he The Loneliest Man in Town (He ain't got rhythm); concluding with 2 songs from the 1948 film Easter Parade.

The remainder of the evening featured songs by other composers including The Best is Yet to Come, presented as a fetching call and response duet; and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Two songs were included in tribute to female vocalists cherished by the evening's artistes: Just a Little Lovin' (for Dusty Springfield, and sung as a duet with gentle scatting), and The Man that got Away (for Judy Garland) sung by Claire in lovely velvety low tones.

All too soon we had arrived at the encore (The Very Thought of You), 2 hours had passed, and a swell time had been had by all.

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