Collection: Berlin Cabaret Songs

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Goldschmidt,Hollander,Nelson,Spolianksky
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Works by Nelson, Spolianksky, Hollander, Goldschmidt (arr. Ziegler),
PERFORMER: Ute Lemper (singer), Jeff Cohen (piano), Matrix Ensemble/Robert Ziegler
CATALOGUE NO: 452 601-2

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The German cabaret style of the Twenties may seem familiar thanks to Weill’s enduring popularity, and Kander & Ebb’s hit musical, Cabaret. So it’s surprising that the genuine songs of the period by the cabarets’ echt composers – Holländer, Spoliansky, Nelson – are so little known. This may be because until now sheet music has survived only for piano.

But Robert Ziegler’s coolly atmospheric, idiomatic band arrangements have brought them alive. The songs themselves are politically subversive, cynical, sexy and satirical, covering subjects as controversial as striptease, lesbianism and the rise of Hitler. They veer from languorous tango rhythms to thigh-slapping oompah. And they are well served by Lemper’s brilliant sense of theatre.

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She is a supreme stylist, capable of a genuinely lovely tone but unafraid to sound throaty, even rasping, if the text and mood demand it. Decca is issuing two versions of the disc: one in the original German and one using new ‘singing’ English translations (to be released in January). These may scan and rhyme nicely, but they do no justice to the original words, and some are patronisingly inaccurate (Tamerlan becomes Attila), leaden and seem to miss the puns: ‘Auf der Gesellschaft’ becomes bluntly ‘We are the smart set’. Buy the German version. Claire Wrathall