Eisler: Chamber cantatas and songs

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COMPOSERS: Eisler
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Chamber cantatas and songs
PERFORMER: Monika Moldenhauer (mezzo-soprano), Beate Zelinsky, David Smeyers (clarinets), Gabriele Roller (viola), Cornelius Hummel (cello), Paulo Alvares (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 339-2
Hanns Eisler’s Deutsche Symphonie must be ranked alongside Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw and Hartmann’s Concerto funebre as one of the most powerful anti-fascist compositions of the first half of the 20th century. Conceived over 12 years, during Eisler’s enforced exile in America, the work is sustained both by the dynamism of Brecht’s texts and by the composer’s accessible utilisation of the 12-note technique. In this live recording (from 1987), Max Pommer exerts impressive command over the Berlin Radio Choir and SO. He generates considerable urgency at the climax of the opening Praeludium and the first Etüde for orchestra. Yet the rival performance on Decca’s Entartete Musik label featuring Lothar Zagrosek and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is even more convincing, particularly in the penultimate Allegro and the chilling Epilogue.

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Like the Deutsche Symphonie, Eisler’s seven chamber cantatas are bitter indictments of totalitarianism. Although the underlying message of each work remains despairing, one cannot help but marvel at Eisler’s capacity to draw the maximum variety of styles and approaches out of extremely modest vocal and instrumental resources. The performers here seem entirely attuned to the musical idiom, and deliver each work with conviction and total commitment. Erik Levi