Paris Days, Berlin Nights
1. Elle fréquentait la rue Pigalle (1939) [4:54]
Michel EMER (1906-1984)
2. L'Accordéoniste [6:06]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
3. Surabaya Johnny (1929) and Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (1928) [9:50]
Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
4. Der Graben [4:55]
5. Über den Selbstmord [2:54]
6. Ballade vom Wasserrad (1934) [4:25]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
7. La última grela [7:06]
8. Oblivion (1982) [4:54]
9. Yo soy Maria (1968) [3:17]
Nikita BOGOSLOVSKY (1913-2004)
10. Temnaya Noch (c. 1943) [5:53]
Chava ALBERSTEIN (c. 1947)
11. Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym [6:33]
12. Stiller Abend [5:59]
Jacques BREL (1929-1978)
13. Ne me quitte pas [5:25]
Ute Lemper (vocals)
Vogler Quartet (Tim Vogler (violin), Frank Reinecke (violin), Stefan Fehlandt (viola), Stephan Forck (cello))
Stefan Malzew (piano, accordion and clarinet)
All arrangements by Stefan Malzew
Full texts with English translations provided.
rec. 19-21 February 2012, Konzertkirche, Neubrandenburg, Germany
STEINWAY & SONS RECORDS 30009 [73:14]
There are few better artistes on the stage today that can hold an audience in the palm of their hands than German chanteuse Ute Lemper.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending a Lemper concert held at the Royal Northern College of Music Theatre, Manchester. As part of her 2012 ‘Last Tango in Berlin’ tour Lemper was accompanied only by pianist Vana Gierig and Marcelo Nisinman on bandoneón. The packed Manchester audience sat enthralled under the spell cast by this exceptionally talented cabaret singer. Like many of her fans in the audience I became captivated by Ute Lemper in the late 1980s with her recordings of German cabaret songs from the Weill-Brecht era. Seeing her live in concert was like fulfilling a long-held ambition in the manner of a ‘bucket list’ of things to do before one dies.
The next best thing to seeing Lemper perform live is to listen to her on CD. I welcome her latest offering titled Paris Days, Berlin Nights released on the Steinway & Sons label. The disc has 13 tracks but we hear 14 cabaret songs as track 3 is a pair of Weill songs. The sung words are in six different languages and the music comes from the pens of an international cast of composers.
The German-born songstress now based in the USA is joined on this recording by her German compatriots the celebrated Vogler Quartet together with the multi-talented instrumentalist Stefan Malzew on piano, accordion and clarinet. He also prepared the arrangements.
Édith Piaf’s singing of the French songs epitomises the smoky world of chanson de cabaret. Concerning a prostitute walking the seedy Rue Pigalle with the excess of her life indelibly etched on her face the song Elle Fréquentait la Rue Pigalle (Her beat was the Rue Pigalle) is by Louis Maitrier and Raymond Asso. Here Lemper creates a passionate and sultry atmosphere so evocative of the decadent Parisian quarter. Michel Emer’s L’Accordéoniste (The Accordion player) is another forlorn tale about a prostitute who falls in loves with an accordionist. This is a generally upbeat song with Lemper producing strong elements of tension and apprehension. With music and words by Jacques Brel Ne me quitte pas (Do not leave me)is an intense love song with the unhurried Lemper repeatedly pleading “Do not leave me now.”
Lemper has chosen a number of songs that exemplify the decadence of Berlin Kabarett scene in the Weimar Republic years. It is not difficult to imagine the bawdy smoke-filled cabaret rooms of Berlin between the wars. A splendid collaboration by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Surabaya Johnny is a popular song from the 1929 musical comedy Happy End. As Lillian who is disappointed that her abusive lover Surabaya Johnny has told her lies and has gone back to a life of crime Lemper is deeply intense amid the appealing and near-hypnotic rhythms. Continuing straight on the same track is the justly celebrated Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife) from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) also by Weill and Brecht. Lemper introduces the gangster Mackie Messer (aka Mack the knife) who steals, commits murder, arson and rape. Noticeable here is the striking clarinet part played by Stefan Malzew. Tragedy imbues Der Graben (The Trenches) by Hanns Eisler and Kurt Tucholsky. Here Lemper poignantly expresses a mother’s heartbreaking love for her son who has been conscripted into the army only to die in the trenches. Next Hanns Eisler collaborates with Bertolt Brecht in Über den Selbstmord (On suicide). Singing in English Lemper creates a dark and achingly sad atmosphere around the text that deals with committing suicide by throwing themselves off bridges into rivers. Next another Eisler and Brecht song, Die Ballade vom Wasserrad (The Ballad of the Millwheel) taken from the play Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Schweik in the Second World War). In the rather puzzling and lengthy text it seemed to me that the constantly revolving millwheel serves as a metaphor for mankind’s propensity for lifelong conflict. Lemper moulds a dour and uncompromising character to the song that cleverly builds in weight and emotional tension.
Ástor Piazzolla’s tango music seems enduringly popular easily embodying the mystery and seduction of seedy backstreet bordellos in the Argentinean seaports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. To a text by Horacio Ferrer the first Piazzolla song La última grela (The Last Bordello Prostitute) is rhythmic and darkly disquieting. To her own English text Lemper is sensuous and stiflingly sultry with the captivating melody of Piazzolla’s amorous Oblivion. Buoyant and briskly rhythmic Yo soy María (I am Maria) from the tango opera María de Buenos Aires to a Ferrer text, Lemper depicts a bawdy nightclub singer who feels invincible when dancing the tango.
From the time of the horrors and depravations experienced in Russia during the Second World War Nikita Bogoslovsky (given as Bogolovsky on the CD) has penned a compellingly beautiful song Temnaya Noch (Dark is the Night). Vladimir Agatov’s text relates the tale how a young Russian soldier about to go into combat in the Steppe at night is expressing his heartrending feelings to his wife and baby. Lemper seems very much at home in the Russian song painting a poignant world of darkness and melancholy. Here I was especially impressed by the playing of the prominent string quartet part and Malzew’s haunting clarinet.
Controversial Polish born, Israeli singer and composer Chava Alperstein is famous for writing socially conscious songs. Justly renowned are her evocative Yiddish settings Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym (I stand beneath a Carob tree)and Stiller Abend (Silent Night). To what was to me an unfathomable text Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym (I stand beneath a Carob tree)the expressive Lemper produces a sense of aching nostalgia. Here Malzew’s clarinet imbues a distinct feel of the Jewish klezmer to the proceedings. In Stiller Abend (Silent Night) Lemper starts off singing in English and continues in Yiddish. With writing that gradually increases in tempo and intensity I was struck by Malzew’s klezmer clarinet solo.
On Paris Days, Berlin Nights the engineers for Steinway & Sons are in fine form: highly satisfying. I am pleased to report that full texts with English translations are provided. The minor issues that no track timings are provided and that the booklet notes are extremely poor are really the only faults.
This is Lemper the mature performer presenting a collection of cabaret songs that with two or three exceptions is not as commercial as some of her previous releases. On the whole the selections do not demonstrate their quality straightaway and will require repeated plays to grow on the listener. Lemper uses the more intimate accompaniment of only four/five players as opposed to the more traditional jazz ensemble that she used on her earlier releases. As a multilingual artiste it is typical of Lemper to sing in a number of languages; even switching tongue mid-song. Given the ease with which Lemper can steamily ramp-up the sex appeal it’s not difficult to imagine this Münster-born temptress as a film actress. With her assured, smoky-toned voice and elevated talent for expression one gets a strong sense that Lemper is not only performing her songs, she is virtually living them.
Lemper not only performs these songs - she lives them.