Thursday, 14 May 2015

Straight or swung? How do you like the Cole Porter Songbook, Sarah Fox and James Burton present their version.

The Cole Porter Songbook
The Cole Porter Songbook; Sarah Fox, James Burton; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 3 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Duo partnership from young soprano, with much to enjoy

How do you like your great American Songbook? In the 1980's I worked with a couple of cabaret groups and we debated this endlessly, they preferred it with a swing in the Ella Fitzgerald mould whilst I liked it more straight, and favoured Joan Morris and William Bolcom.

This new disc from Sarah Fox and James Burton on Signum Classics gives us their version of the Cole Porter Songbook, with an interesting selection of songs ranging from classics to the not so well known, Anything Goes to Mrs Lowsborough Goodby, Night and day to Don't fence me in.

Sarah Fox has a distinguished career in opera and on the concert platform with performances including Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) at Glyndebourne and Royal Danish opera. But she also performers regularly on Friday Night is Music Night on BBC Radio 2, and with John Wilson and his orchestra. She and James Burton have performed this repertoire together for some time. They form a strong and natural duo, with James Burton contributing lively and imaginative accompaniments as well as joining Sarah Fox on some numbers.

Any selection of Cole Porter's songs is liable to be partial, as he wrote so many. Here they manage to include many of my favourites including ones like The Physician, Miss Otis regrets and Tale of the Oyster which are classics but which do not always get included in anthologies.


Sarah Fox and James Burton
Sarah Fox and James Burton
These are great songs by any criterion, and they don't need too much doing to them to work their magic. You don't have to swing them to make them work, simply having a feel for the underlying sense of rhythmic flow is essential. Here Sarah Fox and James Burton by and large give lovely relaxed performances which leave Cole Porter to apparently do all the work (but which probably took a great deal of work in the background), they are clearly used to performing with each other and nicely relaxed. Sarah Fox uses vibrato to warm the voice and is not above bending the line for expressive purposes, but wisely she avoids anything that would strongly suggest mannerism. James Burton's accompaniments are sympathetic and engaging, without drawing too much interest away from Sarah Fox.

But, occasionally the due seem to go a little mad. I get a kick out of you is done as a waltz! Whilst in The tale of the oyster James Burton joins in using a series of funny voices which ruin what is a very great song and which deserves to be taken more seriously on its own terms. (it is funny, but is not a point number). In Brush up your Shakespeare (performed as a duo) they sing most of the verses straight (almost too straight) but then go over the top with funny voices again. Yet they follow this with a lovely poignant version of Every time we say goodbye,

As I have mentioned James Burton joins Sarah Fox for duets and gets a solo of his own in a nicely expressive versions of Where would you get your coat? (perhaps the rarest item on the disc) and Night and day.

This being a CD from a classical label, the booklet includes a good article and full song texts.

There is much to enjoy on this disc, and generally Sarah Fox and James Burton's performances are right up my street in terms of how I like the Great American Songbook, but I will be skipping a few tracks.



Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Anything Goes [2.53]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - In the still of the night [3.11]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Mrs Lowsborough Goodby [2.13]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - What is this thing called love? [2.29]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - You do something to me [3.43]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - My heart belongs to Daddy [2.47]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - I get a kick out of you [3.05]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Where would you get your coat? [3.05]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - It's de-lovely [2.48]]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - So in love [3.43]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - The Physician [3.09]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Miss Otis regrets [2.24]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - I've got you under your skin [3.11]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - The tale of the oyster [2.57]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - You'd be so nice to come home to [3.18]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Night and day [3.41]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Don't fence me in [3.08]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - True love [2.33]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Brush up your Shakespeare [3.25]
Cole Porter (1891-1964), arr. James Burton - Ev'ry time we say goodby [2.49]
Sarah Fox (vocals)
James Burton (vocals, piano)
Recorded at All Souls Church, East Finchley, 20-22 March 2014
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD406 1CD [60.33]

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