The occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s 75th birthday this year has provided his fanatical following with a flood of special events, including a Broadway tribute concert at which Harvey Fierstein appeared in his Tevye drag from
Fiddler on the Roof to sing “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy. For record collectors, the latest treasure is
Sondheim Sings, which unveils 19 previously unheard private demo recordings, most of them made in the 1960s at a wealthy friend’s home studio.
It’s nothing more than Sondheim on piano and vocals, and the liner notes prominently offer this word to the wise: “For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hearing my voice before, I tend to sing very loud, usually off pitch and always write in keys that are just out of my range.” This is definitely a CD for aficionados only. But hardcore fans will appreciate his crisp enunciation and fantastic piano playing on “Love Is in the Air,” “Don’t Look at Me,” and “Pleasant Little Kingdom.”
No Sondheim collection would be complete without a handful of rarities, such as “Truly Content,” originally written for
The Apple Tree, and “Multitude of Amys,” cut from Company. My favorite cut is a live version of
A Little Night Music’s “The Glamorous Life,” with Sondheim playing all the parts, including stage directions. And his stripped-down versions of ballads like “Losing My Mind,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” and “Send in the Clowns” have a Dietrich-like plangency. It’s a thrillingly intimate, bare-bones performance, the equivalent of sitting on the piano bench next to Sondheim while he plays you a selection of songs from his new show.
June 21, 2005