Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins; Mahagonny Songspiel

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Weill
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: The Seven Deadly Sins; Mahagonny Songspiel
PERFORMER: Doris Bierett; Trudeliese Schmidt, Gabriele Ramm, Horst Hiestermann, Peter Nikolaus KanteCologne Radio Orchestra/Lothar Logrosek; Koenig-Ensemble/Jan Latham-Koenig
CATALOGUE NO: 60 028-1 ADD/DDD
No record company has done more for Kurt Weill than Capriccio. While interest elsewhere has generally been focused on scores from the Broadway period, the German company has, over the last few years, been turning out recordings of a number of Weill’s musical dramas from the Twenties and Thirties.

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The latest disc is a coupling of The Seven Deadly Sins with the Mahagonny Songspiel, a ‘stylistic study’ for The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, already conceived the previous month but not executed for another two years (1929). In the ‘Alabama Song’ of Mahagonny, Trudeliese Schmidt hasn’t quite the class of Anja Silja, who sings it in Capriccio’s own recording of the longer work (10160/61), but at least she doesn’t have to contend with the leaden tempo imposed there by Jan Latham-Koenig.

Doris Bierett as Anna, in The Seven Deadly Sins, has an exciting edge to the voice that lifts her delivery, making her believable as the young woman (or rather women) whose adventurous spirit is so ruthlessly exploited and corrupted. Unfortunately she is up against stiff competition, in the form of Brigitte Fassbaender on a recent disc from Harmonia Mundi (HMC 901420), not to mention no fewer than three forthcoming recordings (by Silja, Stratas and Von Otter). The booklet contains a crop of hilarious typographical errors (‘If you had five bugs a day’ instead of ‘bucks’).

But the strengths of this Capriccio series lie elsewhere. I particularly recommend Der Kuhhandel (Shady Dealing, 60013), a deliciously Offenbachian operetta combining hard-hitting satire with brilliantly singable tunes (a winner for an opera company looking for a popular success?), and Der Silbersee (60011). In the latter, Capriccio and West German Radio are to be congratulated for presenting Georg Kaiser’s play (wretchedly delivered, but you can’t have everything) together with the music, for the two are indeed inseparable. Other sets worth investigating are Der Lindberghflug (60012), Der Zar lässt sich photographieren (The Tsar has his photograph taken) (60007), Happy End (60015) and Der Jasager/Down in the Valley (60020).

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From MusicMasters, meanwhile, comes a recording of Weill’s last completed theatre work Lost in the Stars, an incisive yet tuneful social critique (based on Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country) written for Broadway in 1948-9. Again the dialogue creaks, and ‘Train to Johannesburg’ doesn’t have quite the sense of seething, suppressed anger it should. Perhaps the rough and ready feel of the performance is not entirely inappropriate to the setting of a South African township, though. And Carol Woods at least injects a touch of pizzazz into her mock- cabaret number ‘Who’ll buy?’ Barry Millington