Bolcom, Weill, Hollaender, Britten

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COMPOSERS: Bolcom,Britten,Hollaender,Weill
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Cabaret Songs
WORKS: Malena Ernman (mezzo-soprano); Bengt-Åke Lundin (piano)
PERFORMER: Malena Ernman (mezzo-soprano); Bengt-Åke Lundin (piano)
While the songs associated with the Berlin cabaret of the Twenties – by Kurt Weill, Friedrich Hollaender and Mischa Spoliansky, among others – have recently had a good deal of exposure, later examples of the genre are not as frequently aired as they might be. This new disc of cabaret songs by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman offers four songs each by Weill and Hollaender, but also four of the witty Auden settings by Britten and a dozen of William Bolcom’s delightful examples of the genre, which should be taken up by many more singers.


Ernman herself is a great discovery: superb vocal control (including a formidable tenor range) allied to alert, word-sensitive delivery and impressive facility in English, French and German. The Bolcom settings show her at her best, with ‘Toothbrush Time’ a particularly funny song about the shattered delusions of the morning after, parodying Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’.

I would not prefer Ernman’s rendering of the Britten songs above those of Jill Gomez on Unicorn-Kanchana, but it’s a close-run thing, and Ernman’s pianist (the excellent Bengt-Åke Lundin) is better recorded. I suspect, however, that Ernman’s vocal perfection may count against her in some quarters, and sometimes in Weill she is indeed just too pure-toned, too urbane. Ute Lemper’s range, from breathy, sensual yearning to blazing anger in ‘Je ne t’aime pas’ is more engaging, more devastating.


Ernman sings both beautifully and movingly, however, in Hollaender’s ‘Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt’ (popularised by Marlene Dietrich as ‘Falling in Love Again’). This is an exciting debut album from an artist clearly capable of even greater things.