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Ballads of the Pleasant Life. Kurt Weill, Weimar and Exile.
Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone)
Nexas Quartet
Benjamin Burton (piano)
rec. 2017, Eugene Goossens Hall, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney
Texts & translations not included
ABC CLASSICS 576 2204 [64:39]

This most interesting album includes a selection of songs by Kurt Weill and other German and Austrian composers, many of them written when their respective composers were living in exile brought about by the upheavals of the Nazi era. The songs are performed in arrangements for saxophone quartet, sometimes with the addition of piano. The arrangements are by various members of the Nexas Quartet, the bulk of them by the group’s soprano saxophonist, Michael Duke. The three instrumental numbers from Kleine Dreigroschenmusik are heard in arrangements by another hand: Gaetano Di Biacco. I think the arrangements work pretty well though if you listen to the disc straight through you may wish, as I did, that some of the songs had been presented with piano accompaniment, simply for variety. That is not to decry, however, the skill of the Nexas Quartet.

Kurt Weill is well represented in this selection and Peter Coleman-Wright has made some excellent choices. The bittersweet melody of September Song is vintage Broadway Weill, as is the winning tune he provided for Ira Gershwin’s lyrics in There’ll Be Life, Love and Laughter. The Weill/Gershwin combination is heard again in Tschaikowsky, a witty patter song in which Ira reeled off the names of more Russian composers than you ever knew existed. Les Filles de Bordeaux is from a show of which I’d never heard. Sung in French, the song is recognisably by Weill but has a definite whiff of Gauloise to it. Weill’s earlier Weimar period is represented by some numbers from The Threepenny Opera. Here I’m not sure that Peter Coleman-Wright quite conveys the air of sleazy cynicism, especially in Moritat von Mackie Messer.

Zemlinsky’s Lied der Baumwollpacker is most definitely a song of toil – the music is suitably strenuous - while Eisler’s Stempellied is, not surprisingly, bitter in tone. The melodies of the Robert Stolz numbers are unashamedly sentimental but they’re appealing too. I must admit that I didn’t much care for Schoenberg’s early Dank. I found this song heavy going – it’s far too earnest - and I wondered if the accompaniment by saxophone quartet added unwanted heaviness to the music, Coleman-Wright seems a little effortful in his delivery. I think I’d have preferred another Korngold song to this dose of Schoenberg. As it is, Korngold’s Glückwunsch is a fine, expressive number and it makes a very good finale to the programme.

Peter Coleman-Wright has assembled a most interesting programme here, including quite a few songs that will be little-known to many listeners. He sings them very well though sometimes he appears slightly taxed by the highest-lying passages. As I’ve indicated, the saxophone arrangements work well and the playing of the Nexas Quartet is splendid throughout as well as being highly evocative of the period.

The recorded sound is very clearly the product of a modern studio with the performers quite close but that’s fine for this repertoire. Sadly, ABC Classics don’t cover themselves with glory when it comes to documentation. We’re told that the texts & translations could not be included for copyright reasons. I can understand that, though it’s a pity given that so much of the repertoire is in German and will be unfamiliar; these are lyrics that one needs to understand. In those circumstances, the lack of any worthwhile notes is unpardonable. In the track listing there’s a synopsis of what each song is about but each of these is, at best, two sentences long. Even the dates of the songs aren’t supplied, though I managed to find most of them on the internet. There’s a brief introductory note by Barry Humphreys but this doesn’t discus the music at all and I’m sure Mr Humphreys never intended his note as more than a general introduction. Since the programme has been so carefully chosen I think ABC Classics have rather sold their performers – and purchasers – short in the matter of documentation.

That important caveat aside, this is a most interesting disc, which is well worth your attention.

John Quinn

Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Ballad of the Pleasant Life) (From The Threepenny Opera, 1928)
September Song (From Knickerbocker Holiday, 1938)
Les Filles de Bordeaux (The Girls of Bordeaux) (From Marie Galante, 1934)
Kanonen-Song (From Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, 1929)
Moritat von Mackie Messer (Ballad of Mack the Knife) (From The Threepenny Opera)
There’ll Be Life, Love and Laughter (From The Firebrand of Florence, 1944)
Tschaikowsky (From Lady in the Dark, 1941)
Anstatt daß-Song (From Kleine Dreigroschenmusik)
Song of the Free (From Propaganda Songs No.1)
Hanns EISLER (1898-1962) Lied der Bergarbeiter (Song of the Miners) Op 22/3 (1930)
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942) Lied der Baumwollpacker (Song of the Cotton Packers) Op 20/2 (1929)
Hanns EISLER Stempellied (Benefit Stamp Song) Op 28/6 (1929-31)
Gruß an die Mark Brandenburg (Greetings to Brandenburg March)
Kurt WEILL Tango-Ballade (From Kleine Dreigroschenmusik)
Robert STOLZ (1880-1976) Schön war’s heute Abend (This Evening Was Beautiful) Op 902
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934) Die Rosen und der Flieder (The Rose and the Lilac) (From Jugendlieder, No 1)
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) Dank (Thank You) Op 1/1 (1898)
Robert STOLZ Ein schöner Herbst (A Beautiful Autumn) (From Ein schöner Herbst)
Robert STOLZ Ich hab’ mich tausendmal verliebt (I’ve Fallen in Love a Thousand Times) (From Trauminsel)
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Glückwunsch (I Wish You Bliss) Op 38/1 (1940/47)



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