Notes and Editorial Reviews
Historical Recordings from
various singers, conductors, orchestras
CAPRICCIO C5061, mono (2 CDs: 148:38)
Mahagonny, Der Zar lässt sich Fotografieren, Happy End, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Der Silbersee
. Various songs
This is an odd collection of vintage Weill
recordings, one CD for
, another spread across a variety of works: at times fascinating, at other times, frustrating. Fascinating is the only word to describe the French and Danish singers who recorded four selections from
in the late 1920s and early 1930s—with especial note taken of Marianne Oswald’s very slow,
-like Canon Song, and Odette Florelle’s Song of Pirate Johnny, sung very convincingly with the refrain in a fine chest voice. (Florelle was to portray Polly in Pabst’s thoroughly entertaining but heavily cut 1931 film version.) Frustrating is the fact that so much more was recorded at roughly the time from this opera in lands as far apart as Japan and Palestine, but none of that has yet been made available on CD.
Fascinating, again, is the term I’d use for Harold Paulsen’s four Homocord sides (1928). He was the original Mackie Messer. His thin, reedy cabaret voice is used with so much personality that nothing else matters. Not so the original Tiger Brown, Kurt Gerron, nor Carola Neher, who was scheduled to play the original Polly and took over the role in 1929. Gerron is harsh and grating (it’s his version of the Moritat that Ernie Kovacs used when he wanted to create a surreal atmosphere on his legendary comedy series), while Neher is clearly fighting the tempo and rigidity of her unnamed conductor.
Fascinating is the term for Klemperer’s recording of four selections from
for wind orchestra, arranged by Weill. These have a wonderfully pawky, poker-faced humor. Frustrating readily refers to the numerous cuts both from this opera and others of Weill included here that are simply band versions without singers. They’re typical uptight late 1920s “jazz” bands, too, where precision and speed took the place of improvisation and flexibility; but in any case, much of the pleasure in the songs comes from the wedding of words, music, and delivery, which you don’t get in these knock-off renditions. The nadir is probably “Marek Weber and his Orchestra” in a 1928 band version of the Alabama Song from
, though the slurpy saxophone in the Tango Angèle from
Der Zar lässt sich Photographieren
runs it a close, nightmarish second.
More fascinating material: everything here with Lotta Lenya, most especially a dreamlike 1930 Homocord version of the Alabama Song with an unnamed female chorus, bizarrely accented English, and her trademark wispy upper range. Equally good are a series of six songs featuring Lenya with Weill at the piano, recorded in 1943, and a pair of songs with the same performers recorded for shortwave transmission to Germany. I’ll give a reluctant nod as well to Ernst Busch, whose pencil-thin voice is managed with energy and character in two selections from neglected
. (His conductor in 1933 is one Maurice de Abravanel, some years before he’d drop the “de” and make the Utah Symphony his own.)
Further frustrations follow, thanks to the transfers. The editing job removing ticks and scratches is, I’m sorry to write, one of the most amateurish I’ve ever encountered on a professional release, with numerous out-of-phase joins, and excisions large enough to regularly throw off the rhythms in several pieces. I’d rather have the scratches than the resulting audio bubbles where they were removed, or the places where the music skips a beat or two.
Great timings for both discs, and the liner notes are decent—though the note writer missed Symposium 1285 in claiming that the Electrola song compilation from
(excerpts from several pieces segued together) was presented here for the first time complete.
In the end, the pluses of this set win over the minuses, but I’ll admit that the botched editing nearly tips the scales for me the other way. There’s still room out there for a really good comparative compilation of
material, however, including a lot of non-German content that has yet to be released on CD.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Lover Man by Kurt Weill
Period: 20th Century
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