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Cabaret at Café Sabarsky

Last Thursday night, at the Neue Galerie - just down the street, at 86th and Fifth - Kathleen and I were among the rapt listeners as baritone Thomas Meglioranza (hereinafter "Tom"), accompanied by Thomas Sauer, performed a program of songs that I didn't expect to like. Arnold Schoenberg - charming? John Cage - even bearable?

This was the second time in three weeks that Tom surprised me. His recital at Symphony Space featured a great deal of genuinely lyrical music. The beauty of Tom's voice, the strength of his commitment to the music, and the fact that I'd never heard any of it before combined to produce the illusion that the music was being born right before me - an illusion only strengthened the other night at Café Sabarsky by the absence of sheet music. Tom stood in the corner of Mrs Astor's dining room, the piano tucked behind him, and filled the space with truly glorious sound. For an evening of variations on a Weimar theme, it was an unbeatable setting.

The Schoenberg songs turned out to be saucy numbers that may have been written to help the composer secure a position in Berlin - at a cabaret. Unearthed in 1975, they were all totally tonal and, in comparison with Kurt Weill's music of the period, genuinely sweet. This sweetness was also on display in a few of the short Hans Eisler songs that Tom sang in a suite - souvenirs of an unhappy exile in Los Angeles. Marc Blitzstein, like Eisler a pupil of Schoenberg, was represented by songs both tender and rousing - including "The Cradle Will Rock." As for John Cage, the third Schoenberg student on the bill, Tom delighted us with a section of his very satirical Arioso. We got to see the score afterward: it looks like a children's book, with figures and colored lines here and there on each page, and no printed music. It is more of a suggestion than a score, and Tom had a lot of fun with it, screeching in a whispery falsetto and stamping his foot. It sounds ridiculous, but nothing that Tom does is ridiculous. He delivers his interpretation of Arioso with the deftness of a juggler.

Woven among the Schoenberg & Co were several delicious songs by William Bolcom, among them a wry piece entitled "At the Last Lousy Moments of Love." At the end, Tom delivered a wonderful number by Cole Porter that I'd never heard, about an oyster's foray into High Society. A propos of this amusing song, it seems fitting to mention that when he sings a high, sustained impassioned note, Tom sounds almost exactly like the late Bobby Short, which is marvelous.

It was clear throughout the performance, which lasted a little over an hour, that every detail had been carefully considered. Tom contrived to balance moods and tones in a way that kept our ears fresh for each rich offering. Actually, he did the contriving when he planned the program, not when he sang it.

Tom will repeat the program this Thursday night (9 March), and you'll thank me if you manage to go. The details can't be directly linked, but they'll be found under "Programs" at the Neue Galerie's site. Our dinner, preceding the cabaret, was prepared under the direction of Kurt Gutenbrunner, of Wallsé, and it was superb. The bottle of Zweigelt made a nice change, and the service was perfect. In short, an extraordinary night out.


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