Gruber: Frankenstein!!; Dancing in the Dark; Charivari; plus J Strauss II: Perpetuum mobile

COMPOSERS: Gruber
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Gruber
WORKS: Frankenstein!!; Dancing in the Dark; Charivari; plus J Strauss II: Perpetuum mobile
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/HK Gruber
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10404
No one seems to be quite sure what HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! really is. Is it a set of Roald Dahl-ish sinistermagical songs masquerading as a grown-up song-cycle? Or political satire hiding under a charming Viennese façade? Or is it a cabaret entertainment, like Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, but with added sugar and chocolate? This fine recording shows it to be all three. Gruber himself takes on the rôle of chansonnier with lip-smacking relish. Artmann’s witty poems about Dracula, Superman, James Bond, Frankenstein et al are actually performed in English, but sometimes it’s hard to tell, as Gruber rolls his r’s extravagantly and has a Viennese accent you could cut with a knife. The BBC Philharmonic plays Gruber’s jazz-cum-Sachertorte music with remarkable delicacy, which makes the raucous moments such as the deliberately vulgar trombone solo in the Finale and Gruber’s mock romantic kazoo solo stand out all the more vividly.

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The orchestral playing is equally wonderful in the other two Gruber pieces featured on this disc. Charivari is a wry jazz-flavoured commentary on Johann Strauss’s Perpetuum Mobile, from which it emerges with sly wit. Dancing in the Dark is more sombre, evoking the world of late Mahler and Berg more than the Arthur Schwartz hit song of 1931 from which it takes its title. In all this is a CD of sumptuous orchestral and compositional virtuosity. Ivan Hewett