Thomas Allen: September Songs
Thomas Allen has long been an admirer of the ‘Great American Songbook’ and has always wanted to ‘give it a go’, as he puts it, finally fulfilling his ambition with this attractive disc, for which he is accompanied by Stephen Higgins and joined by Lucy Crowe for a handful of duets. Examining themes of love, loss and the rueful wisdom that comes with age, it opens with the breezy assertion of Irving Berlin’s ‘You’re just in love’ and the romantic optimism of Kern’s ‘All the things you are’. Love suddenly turns sour in Cole Porter’s bitter, violent ‘Miss Otis regrets’ at the disc’s midpoint, after which the mood becomes increasingly autumnal as regret replaces desire in Harold Arlen’s ‘One for my baby’, and time begins to tick away in Weill’s ‘September Song’ before running out altogether with ‘Some other time’ from On the Town. The ending is also a beginning, however, since Allen closes with ‘Greeting’ from Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles, which celebrates new life with the birth of a child.
As one might expect, he approaches this repertory straightforwardly and with his customary directness, making no attempt at crossover croon or an approximation of jazz vocalism. Inevitably, perhaps, his voice has lost some of its sheen of late – he turns 74 this year – and his intonation occasionally slips when singing softly. Against that, however, must be set his unforced sincerity of expression and telling way with words. A booklet note tells us that the high cost of copyright permissions has prevented Champs Hill from printing the texts, but we don’t really need them, since we can hear every word perfectly clearly, and hear it given meaning. Anger and impatience lurk behind the self-controlled bravado of Porter’s ‘Just one of those things’. ‘Miss Otis regrets’ is all the more alarming for sounding so impeccably genteel, while ‘One for my baby’ says everything we need to know about the weary disillusionment at the end of an affair. Crowe makes a fine sparring partner in ‘I remember it well’ from Gigi, where the tricky mix of exasperation and affection is deftly caught. Higgins’s playing, meanwhile, is exemplary over a wide range of styles, from Arlen’s blues to Porter’s brittle foxtrots and Kern’s unsentimental romanticism. It’s a fine, consistently engaging disc, witty and touching in equal measure.