Estonian artist Mart Sander has worked in almost all aspects of live theater as well as in televi sion and motion pictures. He is also a serious painter and he has written best-selling books. He has sung and directed at the Estonian National Opera, too, but here he chooses to focus on lighter music. In 2000 he established the Bel-Etage Theater to stage some of the revues of yesteryear, and at first the company performed nightly in Tallinn. During the next year, however, the group began touring Estonia and the United Kingdom. Recordings soon followed. Here is one of them.
Herman Finck (1872-1939) was a London-bom composer of Dutch ancestry. He conducted at that city’s Palace, Drury Lane, Southport, and Queen’s theaters during the first few decades of the 20th century. He composed some 30 scores for revues, ballets, plays, and silent films. I know they did not have supertitles in those days, but in our time we want to be sure to understand every word that is sung. Even with the performers’ excellent diction, if there is no text to be read, that is not always possible. Sander gives us the names of the songs but no texts, and 1 could not find any of the lyrics on the Internet. This is a major drawback. I listened to the songs on several different sound setups, and I was able to understand most of the words, but not all. When she sings In the Shadows, soprano Kelli Uustani gives great attention to diction, and she seems to have achieved the best result. Pirjo Levandi has a slightly lower voice, but she does not fare as well in Venetia, and Mart Sanders’s singing in My Waltz Queen is often covered by the orchestra he is conducting. Usually the lower the voice the easier the words are to comprehend, but that is not true in this instance.
Finck’s music and the sounds of the voices, however, are very pleasant indeed. Levandi has a truly beautiful voice and I would like to hear more from her. Sanders is at least a triple threat, and I think that his words would have been heard if the orchestra had been kept down to a reasonable level for the size of his bronze-toned, virile voice. Finck’s showtunes take us back into a time that extends from before the First World War and into the ’30s. The orchestral and vocal interpretations are true to that era. The sound on this disc is clear, but the balances definitely favor the orchestra. It is an interesting look at some forgotten light music. I think people who enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan and German operetta will like this too.