Friday, 29 January 2010



Weimar Voices, Kings Place, Wednesday 27 January.

Chrstian Immler                              baritone
Helmut Deutsch                              piano


Franz Schreker  (1878-1933)                                         Das feurige Maennlein
                                                                                            Und wie mag die Liebe

Hans Gal (1890-1987)                                    
Fuenf Melodien, Op.33                                                 Vergaengliches
                                                                                         Der Wiesenbach
                                                                                         Voeglein Schwermut
                                                                                         Drei Prinzessinnen
                                                                                         Abend auf dem Fluss.

Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1966)  
Two songs by Morgenstern, Op. 27                            Ein Rosenzweig

Hanns Eisler (1898-1962)
From Galgenlieder to poems by Morgenstern          Die zwei Wurzeln
                                                                                       Die beiden Trichter

Erich Wolfgang Korngold(1897-1957)
Songs of the Clown, Op. 29
To poems by Shakespeare                                          Come away, death
                                                                                        O Mistress Mine
                                                                                        Adieu, Good Man Devil
                                                                                        Hey Robin
                                                                                        For the rain it raineth every day

Ernst Krenek (1900-1991)
From Reisebuch aus den Oesterreichischen Alpen Op. 62

                                                                                         Unser Wein

Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
From Twelve Songs, Op. 27                                       Der Wind des Herbstes  
                                                                                        Gib ein Land mir wieder
                                                                                        Afrikanischer Tanz

Hanns Eisler (1898-1962)
From Balladenbuch, Op. 18                                     (i)Ballade von der                                        
                                                                                      (ii)Ballade von Nigger Jim

Wilhelm Grosz (1894-939)
From Baenkel und Balladen, Op.31                        Die Ballade von Sammy Lee


This is part of the FROM VIENNA TO WEIMAR series taking place at Kings Place, London.   The series as a whole is designed to showcase the incredible flowering of the arts that occurred during the Weimar Republic - almost as if they knew they were doomed and had to cram in as much achievememt as possible during the few years they had.Here is an introduction from the Programme;

From the late Romantic lyricism of Schrreker and Korngold to the sound of the 'Roaring Twenties', as exemplified by Hindemith and Weill, From Vienna to Weimar explores music, film and cabaret from this remarkable era. The critically acclaimed Aurora Orchestra curates the series, performing alongside world-class guest artists including the Artis-Quartett Wien and violinist Clio Gould.

This song recital featured rarely heard songs from the early 20th century, most of which are almost unknown; most of the composers featured in the programme were forced to leave Germany or Austria in the 1930s. Korngold and Weill (who is not included in this recital) made alternative careers for themselves in Hollywood, but Zemlinsky was unable to make a new life for himself in the USA, and died of pneumonia in 1942. Eisler returned to what became the German Democratic Republic, where he became a senior figure in the arts until his death in 1962. Franz Schreker, with whom the programme began, died in December 1933, but by then his career was already at an end because of the rise of Nazism - in 1932 he lost his post as Direktor of the Musikhochschule in Berlin, and  the following year  also his post as professor of composition at the Akademie der Künste.

The two songs by Schreker with which the programme began could not be a greater contrast with each other. Das feurige Maennlein is a frantic song using the metaphor of the 'fiery gnome' to illustrate the devastation of a war-damaged landscape.
The second sond, Und wie mag die Liebe, sets a poem by Rilke on the subject of how love awakes in the heart, and is wonderfully peaceful and serene.

The programme continued with Hans Gal's Five Songs, of which I found the fourth, Drei Prinzessinnen, to be really tragic. It's a paraphrase by Hans Bethge of a Chinese story about three princesses whose youth is wasted in waiting for lovers who never come, and finally end up sitting by the sea, scattering the sand in their hair under the delusion that it is flowers. Hans Gal isn't all that well-known in this country, although he lived in Edinburgh from 1938 until his death in 1987, so I was glad of the oppportunity to hear some of his music. I was particularly struck by the expressive piano postludes to some of the songs, to some extent reminiscent of the importance Schumann attached to his piano postludes.

The recital continued with two settings by Berthold Goldschmidt f poems by Christian Morgenstern - Ein Rosenzweig is a gentle song about a sprig of roses that a girl throws to her lover,  while Nebelweben is a very, very, strange song about the 'fogweaver' weaving a white shirt for his bride, the birch-tree - the mist is expressed in shifting chromaticism, creating an atmosphere of shadow and mystery.

The three songs by Hanns Eisler were also to poems by Morgenstern, but these were humorous songs (Galgenlieder). It is worth quoting the second song here, as it is an example of what would now be called Concrete Poetry.

Zwei Trichter wandeln durch die Nacht.
Durch ihres Rumpfs verengten Schacht
Fliesst weisses Mondllicht
Still und heiter
auf ihren

The first song is a nonsense song about two tree roots, for whom an old squirrel is knitting stockings.

After the interval, the recital continued with Korngold's settings of songs by Shakespeare. Korngold is probably best known now for his film music, and he seems to have suffered the same critical fate as Kurt Weill, being accused of giving up 'serious' music in order to write for popular culture.Space doesn't permit us to pursue this discussion here, I will  just leave the question open as to why Korngold's film scores are supposed to be less 'serious' than anything else he wrote.
The Shakespeare songs are not all that well-known in the country of Shakespeare, oddly enough!! So it was interesting to hear them in an unfamiliar setting - I especially like the witty, fast-paced setting of Adieu, Good Man Devil. A criticism could be that the settings don't foreground the text enough, but this could just be because we are all familiar with the texts, while being less familiar with Korngold's settings.    I love For the rain it raineth every day - it could only have been written by an Englishman, of course!   

The songs by Ernst Krenek were really intriguing. Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen is a musical travelogue about Austria ; the text is by Krenek too, and it is a series of through-comnposed recitatives, or prose-poems. The middle poem describes the pleasures of a day of rain; the narrator is happy that he can sit at home listening to the gentle patter of rain on the roof while enjoying a glass of dark-red wine. The next text goes on to extol the virtues of Austrian wine, which has a discreet charm which is not   immediately apparent to the undiscrimintating palate. 

This was followed by a series of songs by Zemlinsky, three of which were wistful, rather nostalgic songs about autumn and memory, the fourth a complete contrast, African Dance, emphasising  the insistent, mysterious rhythms of the tom-tom. The poem is by the African-American poet Langton Hughes.

The programme continued with two more songs by Hanns Eisler, the first, Ballade von der Krueppelgarde, was an explicitly revolutionary song; the cripples (war-wounded, limping, some with only one leg, some only one arm, some blind) are nevertheless "the strongest battalion, the front line of the world revolution". The marching tune to which this was set was first ironic, but metamorphosed into a revolutionary call to arms, losing its ironic overtones.

The second Eisler song was Ballade vom Nigger JIm - there is no date given for this, but he must have set it while he was in the USA, as it tells the story of an African-American who suffers from the discrimination in the Deep South  it's a very  tragic tale

The final song in the programme was another ballad, this time set by Wilhelm Grosz. This name was completely unfamiliar to me; Grosz came to England in 1934, and set the lyrics of popular songs, of which the best known is Red Sails in the Sunset. He was also known as Hugh Williams. The ballad was DIe Ballade von Sammy Lee, the text by Carola Sokol, about whom I have been able to find very little information. It's a very lively story of girls audition for the chorus of a musical; Sammy Lee is the impresario, who has very high standards, and none of the girls he auditions is found to be good enough; even God is surprised at his rejection of one of the girls! The music of this ballad is in an appropriately jazzy idiom, reaching a frenetic pace as the narrative describes the hopeful dance of the girl whom Sammy Lee rejects.
A fascinating programme, well-chosen to illustrate the variety of musical idioms in the early to mid- twentieth century and the cultural ambience of the Weimar Republic. The singer, Christian Immler, evidently has a deep rapport with this period.Though his voice may have been a bit on the dry side in some of the more lyrical songs, he sang the Eisler Ballade von der Krueppelgarde with inspiring passion and commitment, and was brilliantly partnered throughout by the gifted Pianist Helmut Deutsch.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A Yiddish Winterreise

Purcell Room, 10 January 2010

Mark Glanville, bass-baritone
Alexander Knapp, piano

Alexander Knapp, piano (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an image of Alexander Knapp. Picture a tall man wearing a red yarmulke!)

"This highly acclaimed sequence of songs from the Yiddish repertoire recreates the original, Schubertian journey in a Holocaust context. The singer reflects on the life and world he has just seen destroyed as he flees the Vilna ghetto".

This was the introduction on the flyer for A YIDDISH WINTERREISE; I was intrigued when I saw this and thought, 'I MUST go to this!' I

Like the original WINTERREISE, the cycle consists of 24 songs, and includes (as number 10) a Yiddish translation of Schubert's DER LINDENBAUM. The sequence is more tragic than WINTERREISE, in that the survivor (singer/narrator) flees from the Vilna ghetto but realises that his child has burned to death....the final song is Kaddish, probably to be interpreted as a Kaddish for all the dead, all victims of war and genocide.
The songs are all taken from the rich heritage of Yiddish folk song and poetry, nearly all tragic in import, as befits the theme, but there are also some humorous songs, evoking the everyday life of the shetl.....the idea is to recreate a world that was utterly destroyed. Glanville's resonant bass-baritone is an ideal vehicle for these Yiddish songs...he is also cantor for the High Holy Days at Westminster Synagogue. He sang with deep passion and conviction, and was well-matched by Alexander Knapp's tour-de-force on the piano. Knapp has written some of the arrangements for piano, for instance for the song Vilne (Vilna), a song of longing for the town of Vilna, which was a centre of Jewish life until the destruction of its community in the Holocaust. Knapp has also written a new arrangement for Rozhinkes mit mandeln (Raisins and Almonds), a sad lullaby which is probably one of the best-known Yiddish songs outside the Jewish Community, and for Tumbalalayke (play balalaika)....'tumbalalayke' is the refrain of a gentle love song.
The seventh song in the cycle - Der rebe hot geheysen freylekh zayn (The Rabbi has told us to be merry) - is a humorous song, in which the music becomes faster and faster asthe singer imagines a horse galloping off....a challgenge for both pianist and singer , to which both rose magnificently. The sequence containst another non-tragic song, about playing a Cossack dance, but this has more of a note of defiance, as it contains a line which translates as "Even if we're poor at least we're brave".
The most tragic song of the cycle - Un a yingele vet zey firn (And a child shall lead them) is addressed ironically to the prophet Isaiah ---- "Dream your dream again, Isaiah". The poem is by H. Leivick, best known for his dramatic poem The Golem; it mocks Isaiah's prophecy that "The wolf and the sheep will live together. The child will lead them both by the hand". It is set to a traditional melody, arranged by Alexander Knapp -  the musicianship of both performers is excellent in conveying the depths of despair of this heart-rending song.
As i indicated above, the cycle ends with the recital of the Kaddish, which expresses faith in G-d even after the sufferings the Jews have undergone.

The recital was very moving, with the intensity of expression of the singer, and the scintillating virtuosity of the pianist.
I understand that  A Yiddish Winterreise was first performed at the Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, London, W.1 for Holocaust Memorial Day in 2007.