Malena Ernman grabs the listener’s attention in her début album‚ make no mistake. She plunges into the deep end by beginning with William Bolcom’s ultrasophisticated cabaret songs that indicate at once the breadth of style and diversity of timbre.
It takes a while‚ on disc‚ to adjust to such a palette of strong colours and for the artist herself to get the mix and intensity balanced to suit each song. The simple setting of the fourth song‚ ‘Watin’’‚ brings a moment of relief‚ before we’re off again with ‘The Song of Black Max’‚ now something of a favourite as an encore piece‚ where the characterisation is overripe. From a little comedy sketch in ‘Toothbrush Time’ to a surreal miniature drama in ‘On Close the Curtain’‚ these songs are gems but they could achieve their effect without some of the histrionics present here.
Ernman takes a more measured view of the numbers by Weill‚ Holländer and Britten‚ to the extent that it might have been wise to place these groups at the top of the disc‚ then let her bring the house down with the Bolcom group. The Weill songs‚ sung in less than convincing French‚ are charming; Ernman’s quiet singing with the creamy top floating through the phrases brings special delight. Best of all in this respect is the entertaining Holländer group which includes the Dietrich speciality‚ Falling in love again. The
Britten songs bring the odd pronunciation or two and those overdone dynamics once more. This state of affairs may have been aggravated by the piano‚ a Steinway grand (surely too grand for this repertoire)‚ the pianist‚ who plays very loudly sometimes‚ and the venue‚ a school gymnasium with a less than intimate acoustic.