Dessau: Einstein

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COMPOSERS: Dessau
LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Einstein
PERFORMER: Theo Adam, Peter Schreier, Reiner Süss; Chorus of the Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin, Members of the Berlin Staatskapelle/Otmar Suitner
CATALOGUE NO: 0091092 BC ADD (Reissue)
As an exile from Nazi Germany, Albert Einstein helped the Americans to develop the atomic bomb in order to defeat German fascism. But in Paul Dessau’s opera of 1974, such action appears to have profound social consequences, Einstein soon realising that the power in whose hands he has placed himself breeds a new form of fascism. As a result he loses faith in the humanistic value of his work to the extent of burning a new scientific formula on which he has been working for twenty years.

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It’s certainly a thought-provoking scenario, but in the time-honoured tradition of Brecht, Dessau’s music generally serves the function of interpreting, rather than enhancing the text. In this respect, the score’s frequent allusions to familiar pieces of music, from Bach to Richard Strauss, proves unusually disturbing. I am thinking here particularly of the scene in Act I where storm troopers vandalise Einstein’s flat to the distorted accompaniments of Bach’s Dorian Toccata for organ and the chorale, ‘Vom Himmel hoch’. Without doubt, the chilling immediacy of such episodes is brilliantly captured by the performers in this fascinating release, though in an opera where the words are all-important, it’s regrettable that Berlin Classics haven’t provided an English translation of the text. Erik Levi