Monday, May 03, 2010

Mancini and Mercer’s “Moon River”: Who Gives the Best Rendition?

By Nicholas Stix

May 2, 2010
The Critical Critic

Andy Williams, on West German TV (1961)

This performance is rich and passionate, yet seemingly effortless, hampered only by an overbearing arrangement. At the time, Williams’ voice was so rich, his delivery so dramatically polished—but without becoming overwrought at one extreme, or too crooner-smooth at the other—that he could have sung it a capella. I knew that Williams had a wonderful voice, but until I saw this video, I hadn’t known just how good he was. In this one performance, I find him as a balladeer the peer of Sinatra, in the latter’s prime. If not for the arrangement, this might be the best version of all.
Nancy Lamott: From the Album, Come Rain or Come Shine (1992)

Here, Lamott displays the lilting delicacy that was her calling card, with an arrangement and piano accompaniment that match that character.
Audrey Hepburn: In Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

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(The previous Youtube video I had here has been shut down, based on a copyright claim. Download this one, while you can! If you have any trouble wiht the reception, hit the Youtube icon. Finally, you'll want to shut off the sound at 1:45, when a promotion comes on.)

“Audrey Hepburn proved that God exists, for only God can create perfection.”

Youtube commenter “f01863.”

Usually, it takes the greatest level of training, experience, and sophistication, in order to sing simply and without affectation. And yet Hepburn, who was not a professional singer, achieved just that with “Moon River.” And her simplicity and lack of affectation saved the song which, sung in an affected style would have become schmaltz and ruined the picture.

Not that she was a complete neophyte. She had had some training, and had sung in Funny Face four years earlier. Still…

I’ve read that Breakfast at Tiffany’s producer wanted to cut the song, which Henry Mancini had composed expressly for Hepburn, and that her advocacy saved it. And with it, the picture. Without “Moon River,” Breakfast might still have been a great picture, but it would not have been quite the masterpiece that it was. For the whole picture wraps around the song and the theme. Mancini’s melody and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics expressed perfectly Truman Capote’s sentimentality, while Hepburn’s performance pulled the song back from becoming schmaltz.

And what is true of Hepburn’s performance of “Moon River” is true of her performance as “Holly Golightly,” a thoroughly preposterous name for a preposterous character, in a preposterous story! In other otherwise brilliant actresses’ hands, the picture could easily have been utterly ridiculous. But Audrey Hepburn was a magical creature.

Returning to “Moon River,” I could see where someone might choose Lamott over Hepburn, but I say that Hepburn gave the best rendition of what was, after all, her song.

[P.S. One of the reasons I started multiple blogs was to counter mischief from Google, which at the time would refuse to cite more than one published entry for NSU every 24 hours, and at times would simply censor all references to it. But last night, when I posted the above entry at The Critical Critic, Google had no entry for it under my name, under “Moon River,” or under “Audrey Hepburn,” not for “anytime,” “past 24 hours,” or “past week.” The same was true this morning. TCC has a very limited readership, to begin with. And so, if nobody is going to find this entry via Google, I might as well not have posted it at all. But at least, if I re-publish it here, NSU readers will see it.

Some readers will point out that Google functions through impersonal algorithms. To them I respond that algorithms are a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) proposition. If you tamper with the “GI,” you cause a different “GO.” Sort of like how big-city police departments abuse Compstat, in order to get the “right” numbers on crime.

Some readers will surely ask why Google, the owner of my blogs, would censor the public’s knowledge of them through its search engine. Google is not interested in the spread of information., the world’s biggest source of malware, is interested in datamining, money, and (leftwing) power.]

1 comment:

Martigan said...

I just saw this one for the first time, and it is pretty good: