Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Original and rare recordings of Kurt Weill, 1928-1944

Kurt Weill 
Die Dreigroschenoper 
Historic Original Recordings 1928-1944 

The first disc of this 2-CD collection is mostly music from the Threepenny Opera, including the original cast (1928-31) and select foreign song recordings from 1930-31. While this music by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht has received many performances, there has been a subtle shift in interpretation over time.

These recordings document how these songs were first performed, with the brashness and exuberance of early jazz. Listening to the original cast of Die Dreigoschenoper (Harald Paulsen, Carola, Neher, Kurt Garron, and Lotte Lenya) is a revelation. There’s a subversive undercurrent in these singers’ delivery that’s missing in modern performances.

The collection includes not only the original cast, but also the first Dutch recordings of Weill’s music, along with some dance band covers of the day. Also included are 1929 recordings by the Berlin State Opera Orchestra with Otto Klemperer of the Threepenny Opera concert suite.

Disc 2 features a variety of historic and exceedingly rare recordings from 1928-1944. It includes music from Happy End, a unsuccessful comedy. The songs by Brecht and Weill from that ill-fated production were recorded in 1929, but seldom heard since.

“Six Songs” is a transcription of a box set released in 1943. These American releases feature Lotte Lenya (her voice already starting to darken) with Weill’s piano arrangements made specifically for the recordings. The collection ends with two anti-Nazi political songs Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht wrote for the Office of War during the Second World War. These were broadcast into Germany via shortwave in 1942 and 1944 sung (of course) by Lotte Lenya.

For the most part, the transfers are very good. Surface noise is minimal, and the sound isn’t over-processed. These are mono recordings, and there’s some compression, but not more than what one would expect from shellac discs almost a century old. I found this a fascinating collection of music, and one that provides historical context to Kurt Weill’s compositions.

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