Streamed Concert: Vladimir Kornéev & WDR Funkhaus Orchestra—”Chansons d’Amour”

September 13, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

During COVID, I viewed any number of virtual concerts and cabaret shows but I can count the ones that succeeded on the fingers of one hand.  Based on Chansons d’Amour by German-based actor/singer/pianist Vladimir Kornéev & WDR Funkhaus Orchestra, and on another audience-less concert I will be soon be reviewing, it appears that across the Atlantic they have mastered the medium.  

Vladimir Kornéev (Photo: Elena Zaucke)

Born in Russia, Kornéev fled Georgia for Germany with his parents when he was six. In his musical education he fell in love with chansons and European cabaret songs, especially Kurt Weill.  At the same time, he was becoming an actor in German film and TV.  In this concert, he is backed by an orchestra with a full-string section, led by conductor/pianist Liviu Petcu with whom the singer has worked since 2010.  The lush, intricate, glorious arrangements are by Petcu and Kornéev.  There is a broad swath of European chansons included, and Kornéev is commanding no matter the language or the style. The spoken sections are done in German and while it would have been helpful to have subtitles, he is so expressive and such a good actor, that much of what he says is clear, both  dramatically and emotionally.  

The concert opens with “Les Moulins de Mon Coeur” (Michel Legrand, Eddy Marnay), better known in this country as “The Windmills of Your Mind.”  The song has never sounded more passionate or more romantic.  At the climax, the notes explode from his lips with effortless power. His commitment to the story reins in what might become self-indulgent excess in a lesser performer’s hands.   He is humble and charming between songs.  In “Tango-Habanera (Youkali),” from the opera Marie Galante (Kurt Weill, Roger Fernay), he spins a tale of hope and dreams, of a fantasy world to which one can escape the tedious routine of life. He perfectly captures the battle between the prison of real life and the paradise of Youkali. He reveals every nuance of Bistro Lifetime Achievement Award winner Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme,”  longing for the joy, the love, the youth of Paris, while realizing they are gone forever.  The arrangement is particularly thrilling on this number. 

(Photo: Duka Produktion)

The pop classic, “Beyond the Sea” began life as “La Mer” (Albert Lasry, Charles Trenet) and is done as an instrumental, bubbling with Gallic charm and childlike ebullience.  Kornéev burns through “Kalinka” (Ivan Larionov), a Russian folk song about a lovesick suitor of a maiden named Kalinka.  I think a translation would have actually hurt the song because it would force him to endlessly repeat that he has found a raspberry in his garden. “Podmoskov Vechera (Moscow Nights)” (Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi, Mikhail Matusovsky) is one of Russia’s most loved and most lovely songs, and the singer’s sweet, gentle delivery makes it even more so. There is a thrill in watching a singer purposely keep the power of his voice at bay and just use what is necessary for the song at hand.  He is a master of this.  Staying with Russian, Kornéev moves on to a blistering, hilarious take on “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” (Kurt Weill, Ira Gershwin).  While most singers up the tempo once, he ups it twice, and the third go-round is a dizzying delight. His deadpan face and his stares at Petcu on piano are priceless.  He gets an ovation from the orchestra for this vocal prestidigitation. 

Taking to the piano, he performs “Wintereinbruch” which he wrote with Petcu.  The march-like tempo and militaristic orchestration recall Jacques Brel and add to the excitement of his vocals. “Zhuravli” (Nikolaj Grebnev, Rasul Gamzatov, Yan Abramovich Frenkel) is an elegy to fallen soldiers, imagining that they are not in the ground but have been transformed into white cranes filling the skies as they fly, alive and free.  The amount of pathos Kornéev achieves in his gentle, mournful delivery is astonishing.  “Quiet Love” (Charles Aznavour, Fred Ebb), written for Liza Minnelli is impossibly romantic.  Back at the piano, Kornéev plays his self-penned “Weitergehen,” and his vocal is like a warm hug, The folk-pop tune builds beautifully to a romantic climax caressed by a voice that is the equal to any top vocalist currently on the scene. Then he changes things up once again and dazzles with an instrumental of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Klavierkonzert, 2 .SATZ”  seamlessly leading into an electrifying interpretation of Edith Piaf’s classic, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (Charles Dumont, Michel Vaucaire).

The concert premiered on May 21  and is still available on YouTube and other outlets.  Romance, the CD on which the concert is based, is also readily available.  If there is any justice, Vladimir Kornéev will sooner, rather than later, rise to the very top of the international music scene.  If you are like me, you will spend part of your time while luxuriating in this concert thinking of all the songs you want to hear him sing. Don’t miss this show!

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

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Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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