Rediscovering composer Cy Coleman; pianist Martin Stadtfield improvises on Chopin

A Jazzman's Broadway covers Cy Coleman's time as a cabaret performer, tinkling the ivories and singing in his slightly bristly, easygoing tenor.
A Jazzman's Broadway covers Cy Coleman's time as a cabaret performer, tinkling the ivories and singing in his slightly bristly, easygoing tenor.PHOTO: HARBINGER RECORDS

JAZZ

A JAZZMAN'S BROADWAY

Cy Coleman

Harbinger Records

5 stars

The name Cy Coleman is likely to ring a bell only with the most hardcore Broadway aficionados. Even jazz fans who hum Witchcraft and Hey, Big Spender will have to think twice to remember the composer of these hit tunes. To redress the neglect, Harbinger Records, an initiative of The Musical Theater Project, has been releasing albums dedicated to his works.

The first was 2015's You Fascinate Me So, a 28-track overview which spanned Coleman's Broadway career and is well worth hunting down on iTunes.

This second album is as deliciously, thrillingly bubbly as the first. It covers his time as a cabaret performer, tinkling the ivories and singing in his slightly bristly, easygoing tenor.

Culled from rare transcription discs, the programme comprises selections from three rather politically incorrect musicals - Jamaica (1957), Flower Drum Song (1958) and South Pacific (1949).

What rescues the music is partly the stylish arrangements, focusing primarily on the classically trained pianist's cleanly elegant playing. Most of the tracks are instrumental, stripping some tunes of the most egregious lyrics.

Coleman is especially good at rescuing the overly fulsome tunes from South Pacific where he simply plays. Younger Than Springtime, for example, benefits from his thoughtful syncopated piano introduction, which uses classical trills to frilly effect, but without overloading the familiar ballad with too much sentiment. Happy Talk becomes twinkly rather than twee. And I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair swings with girlish energy.

An eye-opening collection of sleek cabaret gems that captures the best of 1950s jazz.

Ong Sor Fern


CLASSICAL

CHOPIN+

Martin Stadtfeld, piano

Sony Classical 88985369352

4 stars

There are many recordings of Chopin's 24 Etudes (Op. 10 & 25), but young German pianist Martin Stadtfeld's album has a major difference.

Inserted before 10 of Chopin's studies are short original improvisations which seem to sound stylistically foreign, but segue seamlessly into the Chopin pieces. In certain cases, a Chopin etude ends, but the sound imperceptibly shifts into a different musical landscape, often in the same key, eventually modulating to another tonality for the next etude to emerge.

This practice of "preluding" is not new, employed by historical pianists such as Wilhelm Backhaus and, more recently, in recitals here by Kenneth Hamilton and Steven Spooner. There is no jazz technique involved, but a playful use of preexisting keyboard textures, chords and harmonic progressions. In a way, Chopin's well-known Prelude In C Minor (Op. 28 No. 20) seems like the ideal "preluding" subject, thus famously exploited by Rachmaninov in his Chopin Variations.

Stadtfelt's technical mastery in the 24 Etudes are as good as most of his contemporaries, although one might find the Etude In E Major (Op. 10 No. 3) too fast and unsentimental and the F Minor (Op. 10 No. 9) a tad indolent.

This 70-minute recital is otherwise a fascinating listen.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe