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Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
Kalifornische Ballade: Music for Radio‚ Stage‚ Film and Phonograph Records (1929-1934)
Gisela May, Walter Olbertz,
Großes Rundfunkorchester Leipzig, Ebony Band Amsterdam, Kammer-Orchester Hanns Eisler, Orchester des Belgischen Rundfunks NIR/Adolf Fritz Guhl, Werner Herbers, Henry Krtschil, Paul Douliez, Ernst Busch
rec. Berlin, Amsterdam, Belgium, ADD, 1931-1967
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300933BC [73:11]

Over the years Berlin Classics have stood by the music of Hanns Eisler. In the 2000s they issued substantial boxed sets of his instrumental music (184492BC) and vocal music (9058). These were collected into one of Brilliant Classics' boxes (BC9430) in 2014.

The present disc takes in some of Eisler's music for radio, stage and film. It amounts to a total immersion — across 31 tracks and 74 minutes — for out-and-out Eisler fans. The CD is a meeting place for eight archive items from the 1930s preceded by 1960s recordings of Kalifornische Ballade and other satirical songs. Add to these four works recorded by The Ebony Band in the early 1990s in Utrecht and Amsterdam. This collection has been issued in collaboration with the International Hanns Eisler Society.

The songs and ballads written by Eisler for the radio play Kalifornische Ballade (California Ballad) are among his least known and appear here in their first ever commercial release. Work on the music began in Berlin in 1932 but was not finished until 1934 when he was in London. The music was broadcast in December of that year. The words were sung here in Flemish by Ernst Busch having been taken down on lacquer discs. These came to light only recently and are heard at the end of this CD. Berlin Classics tell us that Ernst Ottwalt (1901–1943), a friend of Eisler and author of the sung text, was arrested in Moscow later that year and was to die in a Siberian gulag. Hermann Hahnel is a stentorian stalwart in this 1968 recording. He has an emery-paper abrasive edge to his voice. It devastatingly catches the corrosion, scratch and scrawl of the words. He is recorded in a believably balanced equal division of labour with the similarly sharp-tongued choir.

We then bid farewell to that close 1960s balance as we come to trs. 7-17 which arrive courtesy of The Ebony Band of Amsterdam. The sound spectrum opens up with a full cholesterol digital recording. The music has a nice wooden rasp and the brassy oompah in the Potpourri of Russian Folksongs keeps thing moving. Eisler also finds time for cuckoo calls and sleepy wanderings among the birch forests. Die letzte Nacht comes to us courtesy of a five-part suite of micro movements. Mournful and lacking strings, it's all woodwind. This makes for a nice mix of thoughtful, industrial rhythmic activity and shark-skin graze. There's a nice evocation of hyenas in Hyanen I and II. Kamras Kasper's saxophone is flightiness personified in the little overture. Werner Herbers keeps the Ebony Band players on the qui vive in their lizard-skin encased toes. The three diminutive marches from the theatre music for Draw the Fires are stark, unadorned, scorched and harshly gemütlich.

Gisela May is well known for her Weill and Eisler. Die Spaziergange has May very distanced and papery while The Ebony Band sound very upfront. All three works and six tracks are to words by Brecht. Words and music poured forth from Brecht, feeding the music of his two composer collaborators. No doubt there were others. The Wiegenlieder "for Working Mothers" has May much more closely balanced. This time she is heard alongside Walter Olbertz's sly and enchanting piano. Eisler's Es war enimal has no kinship with Schreker - it formed part of a revue written with Friedrich Holländer. For it May is joined by a studio orchestra for the song O Fallada. Again she sounds just as distant as she does in Kuble wampe (tr.18) while the orchestra is placed far forward. The impression left with the listener is that these Ebony Band tracks have lain in wait for a chance - now supplied - to find a suitable disc vehicle.

The so-called 'bonus tracks' run to about thirty of the disc's 74 minutes. They are of value and these 1930s recordings are, after all, contemporary with the writing of the music. They have been skilfully transferred and do not sound that much inferior to the 1968 recording on tracks 1-6. Resurrected from the archives of Belgian Radio they show the songs set in a radio theatre production with Flemish speech preceding some of the tracks. Also from the same source is The California Song directed by Walter Goehr - the conductor father of Alexander Goehr. The singer of Kalifornische Ballad is Ernst Busch in both the Parlophone disc and the radio tape or disc. Busch sings the Ballad jauntily with an edgily knowing manner mixed with rank chutzpah. Eisler seems to have incorporated into the Ballad a touch of Oh Susannah Don't You Cry For Me!

The booklet is nicely done and the sung German texts are there except for those on the six tracks sung by Gisela May. There's no English translation of the sung words. It's all in German.

For Eisler specialists, as a supplement to their Berlin Classics or Brilliant Classics boxed sets.

Rob Barnett

Kalifornische Ballade op. 47
1. Ballade vom eigenen Frieden
2. Ruf des Westens
3. Groß sind die Schätze der Erde
4. California Song
5. Ballade vom Zug nach dem Westen
6. Die Vernichtung Johann August Suters
Suite für Orchester Nr. 1 op. 23 (Auszug)
Unterhaltungsmusik 1
Unterhaltungsmusik 2 (Potpurri über russische Volkslieder)
Die letzte Nacht (Auszug)
Untergang (Teil 1)
Presseball (Walzer)
Hyänen1 - Hyänen 2
Kamrad Kasper (Auszug)
Draw the fires (Auszug)
Quick March
Funeral March
Kuhle Wampe (Auszug)
Die Spaziergänge op. 27 Nr. 1
Vier Wiegenlieder für Arbeitermütter op. 33
Nr. 1 Als ich dich in meinem Leib trug
Nr. 2 Als ich dich gebar
Nr. 3 Ich hab dich ausgetragen
Nr. 4 Mein Sohn, was immer auch aus dir werde
Es war einmal (Auszug)
O Fallada, da du hangest (Ein Pferd klagt an)
Suite für Orchester Nr. 1 op. 23 (Auszug)
Unterhaltungsmusik 2 (Potpourri über russische Volkslieder)
Kalifornische Ballade op. 47 (flämische Textfassung)
1. Ballade van de eigen vrede
2. De roep naar het Westen
3. Groot zijn schatten der aarde
4. De nieuwe volksverhuizing (California Song)
5. Ballade van de tocht naar het Westen
6. Ballade van de vernietiging van J.A. Suter
California Song (flämische Textfassung)



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