(Stephen Holden’s article appeared in The New York Time, 3/1; via Pam Green)
Barbara Cook’s American Songbook concert at the Appel Room on Saturday evening had the air of a family gathering at the bedside of an ailing but still vital matriarch. “I’m not dying,” she assured her flock, for whom she is a voice of sanity and wisdom like none other. Her difficulty in walking she ascribed to two lower-back fractures that may be treatable.
In the twilight of her career at 87, Ms. Cook knows full well that her voice isn’t what it used to be. Her vocal strength has diminished. Her intonation was shaky. And she had momentary lapses of memory that were more frustrating to her than to the audience, which had come to pay tribute and to bask in her still-radiant presence. Nobody came expecting technical perfection, although her renditions of “No One Is Alone,” from “Into the Woods”; “If I Love Again,” a little-known ballad by Ben Oakland and Jack Murray; and the Billie Holiday hit “Lover Man” conveyed plenty of the old magic.
Ms. Cook prefaced “No One Is Alone” by expressing her fascination with a particular line: “Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood,” then remarking on how it relates to surviving the death of a loved one. She went on to compare Stephen Sondheim to Shakespeare in the layered quality of his imagery. “Man, he’s a trip!” she exclaimed. Another of her idols, Mabel Mercer, was remembered with an analysis of Mercer’s elegant pronunciation of consonants.