Take a mediocre pianist who doesn't read music, yet has an incredible ear for melody and lyrics, and what do you get? Irving Berlin, the greatest songwriter our country and possibly the world has ever known. Berlin will be 100 in May, but the musical birthday greetings that flowed from the Strathmore Hall Arts Center Friday night were right on time.
"You Keep Coming Back Like a Song," one of Berlin's nearly 1,500 tunes and the title of the program, revealed how much one man's art has become ingrained in the American consciousness. Jody Dall'Armi and Cindy Hutchins combined lilting voices with lovely presence, smoothly singing their way through the century. They maintained a crisp pace, making easy transitions from the spirit of a dance-crazy nation in "The Syncopated Walk" to an insider's wry military view in "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones" to a New York state of mind in "Puttin' on the Ritz," cleverly set against "Slumming on Park Avenue."
The art of the segue came into play as Dall'Armi and Hutchins took turns reeling off 18 Berlin favorites, including "White Christmas" and "Easter Parade." Despite its cornball delivery, Dall'Armi's "Doin' What Comes Naturally" seemed to be speaking for Berlin's prolific talent.