Judy Collins: A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim (2016)

Is it possible to have a more sublime combination than the erudite music of Stephen Sondheim and the ethereal song stylings of Judy Collins? This filmed concert, originally broadcast on PBS, features the legendary songstress performing the Broadway master’s finest works at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall, backed by the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Glen Cortese.

Collins has the unique talent for retelling Sondheim’s most biting and acidic works with a distinctive sense of ruefulness – a work of musical magic that gives a new layer of ironic serenity to songs that are too-often plumbed for bitterness. Under Collins’ interpretation, Sondheim classics including “I’m Still Here” and “Send in the Clowns” are presented as introspective last-laughs at an uncaring world, while “Gun Song” provides a disturbing layer of wonderment to a harrowing portrait of a dreadful weapon. Collins’ beautiful phrasing enshrines the genius of Sondheim’s lyrics, and her performances of intellectually intricate songs like “Children & Art” and “Finishing the Hat” offer a magnificent display of the songwriter’s peerless command of language.

Oddly, Collins includes a few non-Sondheim numbers including her Joni Mitchell-penned pop hit “Chelsea Morning” and a pair of John Denver songs – these numbers do not fit the marvelous mood created by the Sondheim canon and would have been best left for the special features section of the DVD that will be available via MVD Visual in February. Nonetheless, this invigorating concert, which is handsomely directed by Pierre Lamoureux, is a treat for the senses.