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Norbeck, Peters & Ford

Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) (1928)
1) Rudolph Forster – Macheath, Carola Neher – Polly Peachum, Lotte Lenya – Jenny, Fritz Rasp – Peachum, Valeska Gert – Mrs Peachum, Reinhold Schünzel – Tiger Brown, Hermann Thimig – The Vicar, Ernst Busch – Street Singer, Vladimir Sokolov – Smith, Herbert Grünbaum – Filch, Paul Kemp, Gustav Püttjer, Oscar Hocker, Kraft Raschig – Macheath’s Gang
Orchestra conducted by Theo Mackeben, recorded 1931
2) Carola Neher, Kurt Gerron, Arthur Schroder
The Dreigroschenband, recorded 1929
3) Harald Paulsen with Orchestral accompaniment, recorded 1928
4) Bertolt Brecht with Theo Mackeben and his Jazz Orchestra, recorded 1929
5) Brass and Winds of the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny [Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny] (1930)
Lotte Lenya and soloists with the Orchestra of the Kurfurstendamm Theater, Berlin
Hans Sommer, recorded 1932
Alabama Song
Lotte Lenya with the Three Admirals, recorded 1930
Denn wie man sich bettet
Lotte Lenya with Ensemble and orchestra, recorded 1930
Happy End (1929)
Der Song von Mandalay
Lewis Ruth Band, recorded 1929
Marianne Oswald with Orchestra, conducted by Pierre Chagnon, recorded 1931
Bilbao Song
Lotte Lenya with Theo Mackeben’s Jazz Orchestra, recorded 1929
Lewis Ruth Band, recorded 1929
Der Silbersee [The Silver Lake] (1932-33)
Ernst Busch
Orchestra conducted by Maurice de Abravanel, recorded 1933
Lost in the Stars
Lover Man
J’attends un navire
Complainte de la Seine
Denn wie man sicht bettet
Und was bekam des Soldaten Weib?
Wie lange noch?
Lotte Lenya
Kurt Weill (piano)
GOLDEN STARS GSS 5410 [3 CDs: 33.52 + 23.11 + 59.23]

I’ve spent some time wondering why this three disc set, in slipcase, dares to trade on playing times of 33.52 and 23.11 and then it hit me. This is the kind of thing you see in cash ‘n’ carry warehouses, sold for bargain basement prices - exclusive of tax, if applicable. I don’t think that’s far wide of the mark, either. There are no notes, no details other than a running list of tracks, all of it basic and an air of impoverishment about the whole thing. Collectors will pass on.
For the curious I will note what we have. Unannounced though it is we have the recording made in conjunction with the soundtrack for the 1931 film of The Threepenny Opera. Following that there are the sides Harald Paulsen recorded from the same work a few years earlier – important ones. The second disc has a lot of an indispensable Weill singer, Carole Neher, as well as the even better known sides Brecht made in the same year. Klemperer’s 1931 orchestral recording is here as well, made with the winds of the Berlin State Opera. Disc three brings us Lenya in the main though we can also hear Ernst Busch - accompanied by Maurice de Abravanel, then still sporting the “de” - the Lewis Ruth band and Marianne Oswald.
The film soundtrack is in rather crumbly sound and there is some pitch instability. The performance – if you’ve seen the film – will have stayed etched on your mind though. Neher is Polly Peachum, a role she created, and she makes a highly favourable impression, the voice firm, secure and light, the characterisation coolly precise. Lenya was Jenny and the voice is naturally more girlish and coy than it was later to become. The men are inclined to be blustery – compare this Kanonensong to the excerpt recorded a few years earlier also on disc one, by the elegant and rather suave Harald Paulsen. It shows that there were already divergences in characterisation in Weill’s stage music between the bawdy and earthy and the more detached and cool.
The second disc, the one that lasts twenty-three minutes, gives us the fine 1929 sides from The Threepenny Opera that Neher made with Kurt Gerron and Arthur Schroeder. This is imperishable Weill singing. She even sings some of Pirate Jenny in these extracts and the impression is as strong as her Polly. Gerron, the first Tiger Brown, is fine, much better than the 1931 Mackeben conducted (and arranged) performance with Reinhold Schünzel.
The third disc is the only one to come up to reasonable length and it is useful if you’ve not come across some of the lesser-known examples. The Lenya Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is conducted by Hans Sommer in 1932. There’s a (rightly) anonymous tenor and much here is cut, altered, and rearranged; the chorus takes the part of Jenny for example. But Lenya is once again in exemplary voice as regards characterisation, invariably underplaying to even greater effect. Her foray with The Three Admirals in the Alabama Song from 1930 is a treat but of greater impact is the series of songs she sang in America in 1943 and 1944 with Weill at the piano. A decade on the voice has lowered and there’s more freight in that tone, more obvious pointing of phrases. The Neher-like straightness has begun to fade. Amidst these last tracks we find a French excerpt of Surabaya-Johnny by Marianne Oswald, and some lusty Weimar banjo by the Lewis Ruth Band in Happy End. Someone in that band had clearly been listening to Sidney Bechet, who had been so popular in Germany.
Much of this, if not all of it, will be familiar to readers from various transfers. The main virtue of this set will be its price. It’s otherwise decently enough transferred but should serve as a stopgap only.
Jonathan Woolf


Norbeck, Peters & Ford



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