Eisler: The Hollywood Songbook

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Eisler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: The Hollywood Songbook
PERFORMER: Matthias Goerne (baritone); Eric Schneider (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 460 582-2
At long last Eisler’s Hollywood Songbook is beginning to receive the level of attention deserving of one of the major song cycles of the 20th century. Composed during the dark years of the Second World War, when both Eisler and his long-time collaborator Bertolt Brecht were exiled on the West coast of the United States, the work records feelings of despair and defiance at the turbulent events taking place in Europe, with remarkable directness and economy of expression. Equally remarkable is Eisler’s musical style, which hovers between conventional tonality and Schoenbergian chromaticism without ever creating a feeling of dislocation in the listener.

Advertisement

This is the second recording of the cycle to have appeared in the last few years. The first, featuring Wolfgang Holzmair and Peter Stamm on Koch, was highly praised by myself in these pages. But the new release, which follows several memorable concert performances of the work throughout Europe and the United States, provides an even more riveting experience, Matthias Goerne and Eric Schneider drawing deeper resonances from the music. One need only turn to the plaintive, almost Schumannesque ‘Homage to the Little Wireless Set’ to hear the difference, for Goerne sings a simple melodic line with a hushed intensity that eludes the relatively mundane Holzmair. Likewise, in adopting a more relentless and daringly slow tempo in Brecht’s morbid poem ‘On Suicide’, Goerne and Schneider send greater shivers down the spine, with the sudden fortissimo outbursts at the end hitting one like a thunderbolt.

Advertisement

Apart from the greater subtlety of nuance from the new version, Decca have two other trump cards up their sleeve – illuminating booklet notes from the Eisler scholar Albrecht Dümling, and the first fully complete presentation of Brecht’s texts.