Every time some classical pundit advocates that classical musicians include other musics in their repertory, I wonder why it only works one way—why we’re encouraged to be all-purpose music providers while every other cobbler gets to stick to his last. Especially since a fresh, non-doctrinaire approach to classical standards by musicians steeped in other traditions can be surprising and fascinating. (Whoever decided to ask Aretha Franklin to fill in for an indisposed Luciano Pavarotti to sing “Nessun dorma” at the 1998 Grammys was a genius.)
The latest album from pianist Simone Dinnerstein, whose 2007 debut recording of Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations came out of nowhere to stun critics and sell truckloads, is a collaboration with singer/songwriter Tift Merritt—and though on most of Night, Dinnerstein merely discreetly accompanies the vocalist on her originals, Merritt does return the favor by putting her stamp on Purcell and Schubert. She turns the former’s greatest hit, the lament from Dido and Aeneas (c. 1688), into a Lucinda Williams torch song (albeit a too-up-tempo, too-brief one), but it’s her Schubert, “Nacht und Träume,” that really knocked me sideways. If the ideals for lieder singing are purity of tone (no roughness), exactitude of pitch (no bending), a legato line, and the breath control that makes all this possible—what we talk about when we talk about a “trained” voice—Merritt reminds us that’s all in the service of bringing the words to life anyway, and there are other means to that end. The catches in her voice after each in a series of eighth notes, for instance, are not obtrusive but devastating. (What they reminded me of, actually, was the detached bowing a string player might use. The technical term is loure—just the tiniest intervening commas to articulate and point up each note.) This track’s my new favorite thing. Could she do a whole classical album next? Maybe open with Schumann’s “Mondnacht” . . . The Triple Door, 216 Union St., 838-4333, thetripledoor.com. $20. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., April 18.