The von Trapp legacy is an impressive one, to say the very least. Immortalized in the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound Of Music and the 1965 film of the same name starring Julie Andrews, the von Trapps were canonized over the decades as the prototypical musician family for the modern age. It should lead to no surprise, then, that the von Trapp legacy lives in the great-grandchildren Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August von Trapp, as demonstrated in their collaboration with the Portland, Oregon, USA orchestral collective Pink Martini on Dream A Little Dream.
Dream A Little Dream is a suite of 15 songs that include a lounge jazz standard, a Bach arrangement, an ABBA cover (in Swedish, even), a Yiddish song from the 1940s, two Germanic folk songs, and several original compositions by August von Trapp including one written for the ukulele – not to mention two covers from The Sound Of Music – within a 48-minute running time. The songs are as thematically linked as they are linguistically disparate
The style and feel provided by Pink Martini’s backing is kitschy, but thankfully avoids the oppressive awkwardness that the lounge and easy listening formats can have for modern listeners. Dream A Little Dream will appeal equally to fans of the bizarre, such as the History Of Space Age Pop series, and “serious” music. The title track and Kuroneko No Tango evoke the classical pop days of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s; think of Harry Mancini’s scores for Breakfast At Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther. The cover of Fernando by ABBA has a Latin-jazz and tropical influence that would surely move the hips of Martin Denny.
Unsurprisingly, the von Trapps’ voices are incredibly versatile, with few contemporaries. There are several tracks with very minimal backing that serve to highlight the siblings’ cohesiveness as a musical group, such as the climactic opener Storm and Rwanda Nziza. From a technical standpoint, the von Trapps succeed in linguistic enunciation: seven of the album’s fifteen tracks are not in English, and the siblings pull them off with aplomb. Their German renditions of In Stiller Nacht and Die Dorfmusik are particularly remarkable. The only slip is Gong Xi, where the siblings do not entirely master the Chinese language’s nuanced intonations; but this may be forgiven in light of the language’s difficulty for Western speakers.
Twelve of the songs are standards, covers, or traditional songs. Hayaldah Hachi Yafah Bagan is a cute, quirky take on Yoni Rechter and Jonathan Geffen’s composition about the “prettiest girl in the kindergarten”. Two tracks, The Lonely Goatherd and Edelweiss, are straight from The Sound Of Music and capture the whimsicality of the original productions. Amanda von Trapp embodies the seductive longing of the title track, all set to August von Trapp’s ukulele and a jazzy lounge backing. While the inclusion of the Rwandan national anthem might appear strange at first, Rwanda Nziza fits perfectly in the context of the album in the siblings’ tranquil and affirming rendition that encapsulates the desire for peace, love, and rebuilding that Rwanda may have “pride [that] is worth your esteem”. The Françoise Hardy cover Le Premier Bonheur Du Jour is pretty, but rather forgettable; the standout is in the guest appearance by the Harvey Rosencrantz Orchestra.
The original compositions Storm, Friend, and Thunder are all highlights and were written entirely by August von Trapp. Storm is one of the most successful and gorgeous songs on the album, and is a perfect Broadway-esque opening fit for any musical as the lead character’s “I Want” song. Friend almost exclusively features August on ukulele and vocals, and he delivers a beautiful ode to friendships had in one’s youthful, easier days. Thunder, featuring Dublin mainstays The Chieftains, is a definitive ending to the album with a sweeping culmination of harp, fiddle, and Uilleann pipes.
Dream A Little Dream changes between capricious and sincere. Kuroneko No Tango is a sexily absurd ballad that even features a silly “meow!” at the end, whereas Friend is a poignant reflection on days gone by. Likewise, The Lonely Goatherd is a pleasantly ridiculous follow-up to the lullaby Hushabye Mountain. It is these moments that most aptly display the power of Dream A Little Dream – an album full of fun and fancy free, but one with moments of wit and candour that make a solid addition to the von Trapp family pedigree.