Those attending the first of two sold out performances by Kate Ceberano and Paul Grabowsky in the expectation of hearing superb music-making by two consummate artists were not disappointed. A mini-mutual admiration society in which Ceberano, flashing her famously engaging smile, undertook the narration to immediately set an intimate, informal tone. Grabowsky was content to do his talking through his piano.
It was obvious that both artists revelled in the talents of the other, as they set about exploring the possibilities of the songs, often challenging the other, as inspiration hit. At one point, when Grabowsky appeared engrossed in a series of brilliant variations, and Ceberano struggled to find her way back into the song, she laughingly confessed to the audience, “I haven’t a clue where he’s at!” Grabowsky of course was quite aware of her plight, and was relishing the opportunity to tease her.
Kate Ceberano is a brilliant singer, not afraid to use gestures to heighten an effect. Grabowsky’s inspired accompaniments provided the opportunity to savour her ability to go straight to the heart of a lyric, play with timing, or respond to a moment of vocal inspiration. Grabowsky, for his part clearly inspired by her imaginative and secure vocalising, provided beautiful settings containing often dense contrasting chording which might have rattled a less secure singer.
Neither pure cabaret nor jazz concert, Love Songs turned out to be a hybrid collection of seemingly disparate songs, old and new, chosen by Ceberano and Grabowsky, to comment on notions of love in all its manifestations, to which they applied their exquisite interpretive talents to expose unexpected insights.
Thus when Ceberano softly crooned Ewan MacColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, as a parent holding a newborn, the effect was surprisingly powerful and moving. Equally surprising was her bluesy interpretation of Johnny Mercer’s Skylark as sung by a tipsy mouse.
A romantic medley of French songs commenced with Ceberano singing Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, in French, through a Sate inspired introduction, before segueing into English versions of two Michel Legrand songs, written for the film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – The Windmills of Your Mind and I Will Wait For You.
Another medley began with Ceberano’s haunting rendition of Alfie and then merged two other Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, This Girl’s in Love With You and What the World Needs Now with Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, to provide an affecting tribute to the late Cilla Black.
A lush, over- the- top rendition of Where Do I Begin became a playful, tongue-in-cheek nod to Dame Shirley Bassey, and even Streisand was referenced with a cheeky version of The Way We Were.
At ninety minutes, without interval, the program was generous and among other highlights in the eclectic repertoire was a sublime version of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and a lovely song by Megan Washington. However, their audience was in no hurry to let them go, demanding, and receiving, three encores.
Kate Ceberano + Paul Grabowsky: Love Songs
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Sunday 23 October 2016
Image: Paul Grabowsky and Kate Ceberano (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens