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Maria Ewing. Crossover.1991 (Audio - Recital)
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For Maria Ewing 'crossover' is definitely not the way to refer to her latest release "From This Moment On", a lesson I learnt in the first seconds of my interview. "I hate that word. This is a wonderful style of music which I love," she says. "I have always loved it; it is my personal taste and preference, and I listen to this more than classical music. After all, the emotional effect is the same—this music goes straight to the heart of people." With the choice of songs on this disc starting with Cole Porter and finishing with Gershwin, and framing ones by other great songwriters, including Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen, how were the songs selected? "It was my choice, and not an easy task. Some of the songs are my favourites, which was a personal, very personal, touch. Others I didn't know as well.
"The starting point was the Cole Porter sequence. I felt From that moment on says quite a lot," she laughs. "I selected the other Porter songs lam fond of, and the same with the concluding Gershwin. It was important to end quietly." Arrangements (by Neil Richardson, who also conducts) mix orchestral accompaniment with solo piano, here played by Richard Rodney Bennett. "I absolutely loved the recording—it was a wonderful team of people, the kind of thing that doesn't always happen. With Richard it was as if we had worked together for rears. And I just love Neil's arrangements. Arrangements are written for you so they become a personal thing. Neil sat at the piano here [in Maria Ewing's Sussex drawing room] and decided on the keys. We had a wonderful rapport—ideal, exactly what you want. We talked about the sound of a particular song, whether it should be slow or faster, or more of a ballad."
The idea of Ewing recording songs from the world of the musical followed a similar programme per formed at the Proms in 1989. A postProms dinner the previous year had alerted John Drummond to Ewing's sympathy and love for this repertoire, and he apparently jumped at the idea, bringing Bennett and Richardson into the mix. This style of music had never been featured at the Proms before.
"There's something so special about the songs—they explain certain things, usually about love and how awful, cruel and wicked it is. People responded to this. The tunes are exciting, fun, sensual and sexy. The music does something to you— I'm hooked." Making the transition from a classical style isn't easy, she explains. "The parts are very exacting to sing. Achieving the correct sound is helped by the selection of keys and timbre—Sinatra and Garland had their own keys. If you select high keys then you will automatically sound operatic. The range must be tow, like speaking."
With so much of Ewing's work involving the large forces of opera repertoire it must have been refreshing to record on a relatively small scale. "No, I didn't think of it like that. It is quite a responsibility having a whole record on your shoulders. But you can't think about that at the time. With opera there are so many elements that the burdens are apportioned more evenly." The anguish of love is a dominant theme in Ewing's professional life, from Jerome Kern to Carmen (the Earls Court production was recently performed before thousands on an Australian tour), Salome (Washington DC in November), Tosca (next July at Covent Garden), and soon Madama Butterfly, scheduled for next year in Los Angeles. She records Pelléas ci Mélisande (with the Vienna Philharmonic and Abbado) for DG in January. "They're marvellous parts—I can't complain."