The explosive success of Die Dreigroschenoper following
its sensational premiere on 31st August 1928 instigated a
mini bidding war amongst recording companies, all of which wanted to
secure recording rights for what they rightly saw as a money spinning
enterprise. Vocal, instrumental and dance arrangements were all issued
but it wasn’t until two years after the premiere that Telefunken brought
out eight sides with broadly the original cast – with Brecht adding
texts, spoken by Kurt Gerron, before each song. The orchestrations were
somewhat changed for the recording and there was one significant cast
replacement – Willy Trenk-Trebitsch, who’d sung in the Prague premiere,
replaced Harald Paulsen who had a much smoother voice than the slightly
Otherwise these discs capture a contemporary performance
tradition in full motor and are part of the fabric of recording history.
The Dreigroschenoper is supplemented by four sides of the French production
and by four sides from 1929 recorded on the Orchestrola label and featuring
Carola Neher – who makes up in artistry what she lacks in voice - and
Brecht himself in their mini-selection. As if these famous records weren’t
riches enough there are songs by Rudolf Nelson, Friedrich Hollaender
and Wilhelm Grosz sung by Kurt Gerron (later to be murdered in Auschwitz
in 1944), Marlene Dietrich and Curt Bois.
Lenya’s soprano is full of clarity and the tremulous
and eerily romantic commas and disjunctions of Seeräuberjenny
are conveyed with pungent directness. The facetious Hawaiian guitar
in Zuhäilterbassatle, the evocative delicacies of Barbara
Song and the coarse harshness and anti-sentimentalism of the Zweites
Dreigroschen-Finale register in the sharpest, most explicit way
in these near-definitive performances. There’s a study to be made of
the insouciance of the Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit and
the bleating vibrato of the final selection, Moritat und Schlusschoral.
The French version, with Préjean, Henley and Lion was once again
distinguished by the accompaniment of the house orchestra, the Lewis
Ruth band, and conducted by the ubiquitous Theo Mackeben – but this
a performance from a different tradition entirely. The result of the
voice types and imperatives is to take the sting from the music; there’s
a not unattractive but unidiomatic, sanguine elegance to the performances.
Of the other performances Gerron is cocksure and humorous
in Das Nachtgespenst and Dietrich radiates sensuous intimacy
in Peter. Curt Bois does a hilarious turn in Hollaender’s Guck
doch nich immer nach dem Tangogeiger hin, with its jealous tango
inflected tale of the lothario fiddler complete with voice impersonation
and mordant saxophone. Gerron returns for the bitter baritonal truths
of Vom Seemann Kuttel Daddeldu larding the impersonation with
a drunk act and a pungent sarcasm. As for Brecht himself, in his two
outings he is sinuous and insinuating, rolling his "r" in
so extravagant and lascivious a way its like has never been heard since.
To hear him accompanied by the Depression Era pipe organ in Die Moritat
von Mackie-messer is not an experience to be missed.
The booklet provided in this Telefunken Legacy series
is up to the now-accustomed luxury standard. Notes and texts are tri-lingual,
German, English and French. Copies of the 78s are in generally sound
condition and well-transferred but there is an inconsistency to the
quality that is a little disappointing, There are some surely eliminatable
thumps in the introduction to Erstes Dreigroschen-Finale and
Carola Neher’s contributions are plagued by surface noise. Still, a
momentous collection and an indispensable one for the shelves.