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Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
The Seven Deadly Sins* (1933)
Lotte Lenya (Anna I and Anna II)
The Family: Julius Katona, Fritz Göllnitz (tenors), Ernst Poettgen (baritone), Sigmund Roth (bass)
Orchestra/Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg
Happy End (1929)
Lotte Lenya (singer)
Orchestra/Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg
Texts by Bertolt Brecht
rec. Friedrich Ebert Halle, Hamburg, September 1956*; July 1960; remastered using DSD
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 78754-2 [73:47]


Kurt Weill’s fusion of styles – serious, music hall and jazz, here makes for compelling listening in recordings made in the decade after his death and featuring his widow, Lotte Lenya. Her voice had quite a limited range - necessitating some transposition - and a metallic quality that was hardly beautiful. But it was amazingly characterful and she managed to convey every sub-plot in these two powerful works. Others, notably Ute Lemper, have since taken up Weill’s cause to great effect but recordings like these are unlikely to be superseded.

The Seven Deadly Sins was premièred in Paris in 1933, shortly after Weill had fled the Nazis. It is a ballet with song which follows on from an earlier collaboration with Brecht – The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny. The key element is the "Siamese sisters that exist in the nature of every woman". Lenya plays both Annas – one practical, the other emotional as the seven sins are sequentially committed, framed by a prologue and epilogue, and with contributions from "the family". An unsettling work – it seemingly ends happily as the two Annas head home for Louisiana.

Happy End, a play with music, was an earlier work and one in serious danger of being forgotten until around the time this recording was made. At the time of the première in Berlin in 1929 playwright Bertolt Brecht had many critical enemies. The story was supposedly written by one "Dorothy Lane" and adapted by Elisabeth Hauptmann (Weill’s former mistress) but no-one has heard of Lane before or since. This did not fool the drama critics, and they tore into Brecht. Much of their animosity was political and the music, it seems, was a much lesser consideration. Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, and this recording, it is surprising that numbers such as The Sailor’s Tango, The Mandalay Song and Surabaya Johnny weren’t immediate hits. Instead, it was rapidly withdrawn, left unpublished and not revived until 1958. Even now, there seems to be uncertainty about the ordering of the musical material – David Atherton’s 1975 recording for DG groups the songs in a completely different way.

The unnamed orchestra consisted of players from the Hamburg State Opera under one of their resident conductors of the time, Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. He was apparently a Handel specialist and the orchestral players were previously unfamiliar with the music. That sounds unpromising but the accompaniments are effective and idiomatic.

The recording quality was certainly reasonable for the time and this has scrubbed up very well in the latest remastering. Lenya’s voice is forwardly balanced, especially in The Seven Deadly Sins but one adapts to a feeling of her being "in your face" at the beginning of the disc. Arguably, this is a legitimate part of the experience anyway.

The booklet is quite fat, majoring on the works and providing some background on the recordings. There is little said about Lenya and there are no texts, which are considerable minuses.

This disc is a reissue in Sony Classical’s "Great Performances" series. The implied accolade is well justified; almost fifty years old after they were made these recordings maintain an authenticity that makes you tingle. Lenya and Brückner-Rüggeberg made other Weill recordings for CBS around the same time, notably The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny and Der Dreigroschenoper. At the moment these also seem to be available on Sony Classics.

Patrick C Waller


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