Kurt WEILL (1900-1950) Original recordings 1929-1956
Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (from Die Dreigroschenoper)
Bilbao Song (from Happy End) (2) [03:05]
Die Ballade von der Unzulänglichkeit (from Die Dreigroschenoper)
Alabama Song (from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny)
Surabaya Johnny (from Happy End) (5) [03:06]
Wie man sich bettet (from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny)
September Song (from Knickerbocker Holiday) (7) (8) (two
versions combined) [04:44]
My Ship (from Lady in the Dark)(9) [02:56]
Tchaikovsky /And Other Russians) (from Lady in the Dark)
The Saga of Jenny (from Lady in the Dark) (11) [03:14]
Lost in the Stars (from Ulysses Africanus and Lost in
the Stars) (12) [03:01]
Lover Man (Trouble Man) (from Ulysses Africanus and Lost
in the Stars) (13) [02:50]
Speak Low (1) (from One Touch of Venus) (14) [02:04]
Speak Low (I1) (from One Touch of Venus) (15) [03:17]
Moderato Assai from the Threepenny Opera (arr. Stefan Frenkel) (16)
Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed (from Street Scene) (17) [03:05]
Here I’ll Stay (from Love Life) (18) [03:15]
Green-Up Time (from Love Life) (19) [02:41]
Pirate Jenny (from The Threepenny Opera) (20) (04:04)
Mack the Knife (A Theme from the Threepenny Opera) (21) [03:24]
(vocalist) (15), Bertolt Brecht (vocalist) (1, 3), Buddy Clark (vocalist)
(18), Walter Huston (vocalist) (7, 8), Danny Kaye (vocalist) (10),
Greta Keller (vocalist) (19), Gertrude Lawrence (vocalist) (9, 11),
Lotte Lenya (vocalist) (2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 20), Mary Martin (vocalist)
(15), Johnny Mercer (vocalist) (17), Kurt Weill (vocalist) (14), Jascha
Heifetz (violin) (16), Benny Goodman (clarinet) & His Orchestra
(17), Louis Armstrong (trumpet and vocalist) & His All-Stars (21),
Emanuel Bay (piano) (16), Cy Walter (piano & rhythm section) (19),
Kurt Weill (piano) (5, 6, 12, 13, 14), Mitchell Ayres’ Orchestra &
Chorus (18), Orchestra (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 20), Theo Mackeben’s
Jazz Orchestra (1, 2, 3), The Three Admirals and Orchestra (4)/Maurice
Abravanel (8, 10, 15), Leonard Joy (9, 11), Samuel Matlowsky (20),
Victor Young (7)
rec. May 1929 (1, 3), c. October 1929 (2), 24 February 1930 (4),
24 November 1938 (8), 28 January 1941 (10), 23 February 1941 (9,
11), c. 1942 (5, 6, 12, 13, 14), 7 November 1943 (15), 31 October
1944 (7), 30 November 1945 (16), 30 January 1947 (17), 20 December
1947 (18), March 1954 (20), 28 September 1955 (21), January 1956
(19) in Berlin (1, 2, 3, 4), Hollywood (17), Los Angeles (7) and
New York (all others) NAXOS 8.120831 [62:47]
label this “Nostalgia”, but I think Kurt Weill is too big a
figure for that. Nostalgia means, at least for me, something
that belongs to its time, which has passed from fashion and
which we now return to with a mixture of amusement and affection.
We value it for the way it evokes a past age for us. It’s obviously
fascinating to peep into the past and hear the sleazy sound
of Theo Mackeben’s Jazz Orchestra, to listen to Bertold Brecht
himself recounting Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife) in a manner
at once laid back and venomous, with incredible rolled “Rs”
at the end of every word that finishes with that letter. Fascinating,
too, to find that Lotte Lenya had a high, girlish sort of voice
in those days, pretty but scarcely able to convey emotion.
of course, the music has moved forward with time. Lotte Lenya
herself changed. She still sounds much as before in the 1942
New York recordings with Weill himself busking in the background
but in 1954 her voice was moving downwards, but gaining substance
and intensity. There’s an emotion here I didn’t find before.
Much has been said of the downward transpositions Lenya imposed
on the music as her voice grew older and increasingly nicotine-stained,
colouring our perception of this music for generations, but
did she really do it any harm?
music has gone through a good many processes over the years.
What would he himself have thought of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Mack
the Knife”; how would he have reacted to “Surabaya Johnny” in
the smouldering renderings of Cathy Berberian or Milva? We may
criticize some of these singers for customizing the music for
their own purposes – and Milva certainly degenerated into self-caricature
with the passing years – but as a result of them we expect this
music to be sung with a weight of emotion behind it. Of the
“classical” singers who respected Weill’s original orchestrations
and sought to create his style, the finest I’ve heard on disc
was Brigitte Fassbaender.
anyone trying to work out how Weill should be sung will have
to listen to the earlier records here.
we come to the likes of Gertrude Lawrence or Danny Kaye, things
are rather different. These are the sort of voices we revive
out of nostalgia and the music of Weill’s American period has
not accompanied us down the generations like his German works.
Conventional wisdom has it he became soft and sugary in the
United States and these pieces were set aside when the Weill
bandwagon started rolling again in the 1970s. More recently
they have been re-examined, but if you want to argue that they
have the acid of yore beneath their glossy surfaces, these typical
Broadway renderings – some of them conducted by Weill’s protégé
Maurice Abravanel – would not be the material with which to
make your case.
real curiosity is a demo recording of Weill himself singing,
nicely in tune but without vocal allure and with a quaint German
accent. He does suggest, through it all, that a rhythmically
tighter rendering than the better sung but soupy performance
that follows by Mary Martin, may be the way to get something
more out of the music.
there are some instrumentalists to be noted. Heifetz’s ukulele-like
pizzicatos and double harmonics are alone worth double the price
of the disc, but there is also a nice display from Benny Goodman
and the dizzying, life-enhancing verve of Satchmo.
recordings are obviously variable but, as the producer David
Lennick points out, some are very rare. The historical importance
of most of them cannot be overestimated.
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