LABELS: Decca Entartete Musik
WORKS: Zeus und Elida; Schöne Geschichten; Blues – Stimmen aus dem Massengrab – Marsch
PERFORMER: Michael Kraus, Franziska Hirzel, Harry van der Kamp, Hans Aschenbach, Romain Bischoff; Ebony Band, Cappella Amsterdam/Werner Herbers
CATALOGUE NO: 460 001-2
Few composers epitomised the conflicting and often bewildering cultural preoccupations of Twenties Germany in a more provocative manner than Stefan Wolpe (1902-72). Unlike his immediate contemporaries Weill and Eisler, Wolpe never submitted to the strictures of a conventional academic training, though contact with Busoni proved decisive to his development. Even more significant was his early encounter with Dadaism and a particularly fruitful engagement with some of the radical artists associated with the Bauhaus. It was inevitable too that Wolpe would become involved in left-wing politics, increasingly so after the inexorable rise of fascism.
Such interests and influences lie at the heart of the two chamber operas presented here. Zeus und Elida is to all intents and purposes a Zeitoper combining topicality (in this case the hurly-burly of the great metropolis) with elements of surrealism (the god Zeus alighting from a cloud on to Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, falling in love with the face on a poster advertising Elida perfume) and barbed political commentary (attacks on Hitler and his connections with big business). Schöne Geschichten is even more bizarre – a collection of seemingly disparate jokes, tales and shaggy-dog stories. The influence of jazz and popular music percolates both works in the instrumental scoring and in the use of dances such as the charleston, tango and boston. But Wolpe’s relentlessly chromatic idiom is somewhat wearing, and despite the fascinating nature of the music and brilliantly committed performances, these works, I fear, are in danger of attracting the interest of only a limited audience.