Friday 10 December 2021

La Bonne Cuisine: Lotte Betts-Dean and Harry Rylance at Fidelio Cafe on OnJam Lounge

Lotte Betts-Dean at Fidelio Cafe, filmed by Andrew Staples for OnJam
Lotte Betts-Dean at Fidelio Cafe, filmed by Andrew Staples for OnJam

Bernstein La Bonne Cuisine, Sondheim, Ravel, Britten, Enescu, Youmans, Bolcom, Schubert, Bricusse; Lotte Betts-Dean, Harry Rylance, dir: Andrew Staples; OnJam

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 November 2021
A delightful and imaginative romp through food and drink themed songs, mixing serious and popular, well-known and seriously undervalued

As part of OnJam Lounge, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and pianist Harry Rylance have recorded a filmed recital of songs with a food and drink theme, La bonne cuisine [to be broadcast on 12 December 2021]. It is one of six OnJam Lounge recitals, filmed at the Fidelio Cafe by Andrew Staples. Betts-Dean and Rylance have put together an eclectic mix of songs ranging from Purcell to Sondheim all of which touch, in some way, on food and drink. The styles are varied too, with Schubert and No No Nanette appearing right next to each other, this isn't one of those recitals that places the popular items at the end, behind a sort of programmatic 'cordon sanitaire', and one of the lovely things is the way Betts-Dean really sings the more popular items, yet she and Rylance also bring out the toe-tapping nature of the material too.

We begin with Betts-Dean sat on top of the Fidelio Cafe's kitchen counter boasting about how she makes the Worst Pies in London (from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd), admirably mixing firm tone with great words and clearly having fun too. 

Warlock's Captain Stratton's Fancy moves us from pies to rum, with Betts-Dean making admirably robust work of a song more often sung by baritones. Still in a drink mood, Schubert's Trinklied is all classical poise, yet engaging. The final drink is tea, a performance of Tea for Two (from Vincent Youmans's No No Nanette) which moves from a rather art-song styled verse to a wonderfully swung chorus.

Leonard Bernstein's La bonne cuisine is the composer's setting of four French recipes (though Bernstein adapted them in a way that means the recipes no longer actually work), written for his friend Jennie Tourel. Each is something of a tour de force, whether the quick fire words of the opening and closing numbers, to the more dramatic moments in between. All delivered here with great style, with Rylance doing full justice to Bernstein's substantial piano part.

Still in the 20th century, next comes Britten's folk-song setting, I will give my love an apple, originally created for voice and guitar.  And then something completely different, a song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; I had forgotten what fun Lesley Bricusse and Anthony Newly's The Candy Man Can was, especially when performed as here with great élan and sense of enjoyment. Georges Enescu's Changeons propos is another, albeit very different, novelty. Setting a medieval French text by Clement Marot (from a set Enescu wrote in 1907/08) this is a one in praise of the pruning knife! Rather striking and why don't we hear more of these songs!

We return to Britten, this time his realisation of Purcell's If music by the food of love, and both realisation and performance nudge the song in the direction of art song.  Ray Henderson's You're the cream in my coffee was published in 1928 but has been performed by a wide range of artists, and both Betts-Dean and Rylance were clearly having fun. From a similar time (but in completely different style), we next come to Ravel's Chanson a boire from his late song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (from 1932/33). 

We end with what for me is an old favourite but which may be new to many. William Bolcom's 1980 cabaret song, Lime Jellow Marshmello Cottage Cheese Surprise. Written for his wife Joan Morris (who memorably recorded it), Sarah Walker also included it in her repertoire and recorded it too. Here Betts-Dean sings and speaks Bolcom's crazy words with relish.

Part of the delight of this recital, the way the performers put together songs which seem so disparate yet work as contrast and you find intriguing temporal connections between them. So that the Britten realisation, for instance is less than 20 years older than the Ray Henderson song and the Ravel song. Betts-Dean and Rylance are always engaging here, and I loved the way Betts-Dean has no qualms about really singing the lighter items yet making them work in context.

My only grip is a non-musical one, there didn't seem to be a list of what was performed!

La Bonne Cuisine debuts on OnJam Lounge on 12 December 2021, when there is also a Q&A with Lotte Betts-Dean and Harry Rylance, and the film will be available on catch-up for 30 days. Full details from OnJam.

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