Mayerl: Honeymoon for Three: songs

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mayerl
LABELS: Shellwood
WORKS: Honeymoon for Three: songs
PERFORMER: Alison Taffs (mezzo-soprano), Robert Petillo (tenor), Alex Hassan (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SWCD 28 (distr. 020 8873 1280; www.shellwood.co.uk)
Billy Mayerl (1902-59), the prolific composer of syncopated piano solos, also wrote the scores for over 20 stage shows between 1924 and 1940. Considering the success of his piano works (‘Marigold’ sold 150,000 copies of the sheet music), it’s surprising that Mayerl never had a big song hit. His regular lyricist, Frank Eyton, was a co-writer of one of popular music’s greatest standards, ‘Body and Soul’, but here rarely delivers anything above jolly revue level; Mayerl’s tunes, too, have an indifferent melodic impact relying heavily on formulaic period gestures.

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That said, this is a highly enjoyable disc, full of surprises and discoveries from the opening ‘You’re not too bad yourself’, to ‘Two of everything’, ‘I’d be lost without you’ and ‘Mine’s a hopeless case’, with their deft rhyming schemes, rhythmic zest and delectable period charm. Some of them could easily pass for early Gershwin and singers looking for fresh duet material could do worse than revive them.

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Taffs and Petillo do these songs proud (the microphone loves their voices), with an admirable feel for style and idiom, crystal-clear diction and an engaging innocence. Pianist Alex Hassan is astonishingly good, negotiating some deceptively difficult writing with exactly the right crisp, insouciant, light touch. Jeremy Nicholas