WORKS: Afrika Songs; Rondels; Bankel und Balladen; Hit Songs (arr. Ziegler)
PERFORMER: Cynthia Clarey (soprano), Jake Gardner (baritone), Andrew Shore (bass), etc Matrix Ensemble/Robert Ziegler
CATALOGUE NO: 455 116-2
It seems incredible that such a versatile musician as Wilhelm Grosz (1894-1939) can have remained a mere footnote in 20th-century musical history for so long. A composer who felt equally at home writing Lieder, opera, cabaret numbers and hit songs, Grosz also claimed distinction as a musicologist and a record producer. Born into a wealthy Viennese Jewish family, he became a favourite pupil of Franz Schreker, enjoyed a distinguished career in the Weimar Republic, where he successfully exploited German infatuation with jazz and American popular music idioms, and with the advent of the Nazis, sought exile in Britain and the United States as a composer of commercial songs.
Less hard-hitting than Weill, less politically subversive than Eisler, Grosz’s music has thus far escaped the detailed attention it deserves — a situation that will surely change as a result of this marvellously performed recording. Drawing on a variety of vocal works, the disc demonstrates Grosz’s versatility of idiom, embracing within the space of a decade perfumed late Romanticism in the Rondels, an assimilation of Negro spirituals in the haunting Afrika Songs, as well as brusque satire in the uproarious Bankel und Balladen. It also confirms that even before Grosz penned such perennial favourites as ‘Isle of Capri’, he was a melodist of outstanding distinction. Erik Levi