Classical Reissue Reviews

KURT WEILL: The Threepenny Opera – Historic Original Recordings 1928-1944 – Lenya, Weill, Otto Klemperer, many others – Capriccio (2 CDs)

A must-have set for any Brecht/Weill fan.

Published on September 21, 2011

KURT WEILL: The Threepenny Opera – Historic Original Recordings 1928-1944 – Lenya, Weill, Otto Klemperer, many others – Capriccio (2 CDs)

KURT WEILL: The Threepenny Opera – Historic Original Recordings 1928-1944 – Original cast recording, Kleine Dreigroschenmusik for Winds, Foreign song recordings, Dance arrangements, Weill songs from Mahagonny, Happy End, Der Silbersee, The Czar Has His Photograph Taken, & others – Lotte Lenya, vocals/Kurt Weill, piano/ Lewis Ruth Band/Theo Mackeben, Harald Paulsen Orch./ Maurice De Abravanel/Kapelle der Staatsoper Berlin/Otto Klemperer – Capriccio C5061 (2-CD set) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

This is a must-have double album for all Weill fans—full of many different (some not heard for many years) recordings, on as many as 20 different record labels, of music by Kurt Weill for the original Threepenny Opera and many other stage productions and songs in the years up to 1944. The first of the two discs has been available from Capriccio for some time, with Weill and Lenya on its cover. But the second gathers together old shellac recordings from other works which Weill wrote during the years 1927 thru 1933. There are also selections from two American recordings made by the famous pair of artists from 1943 and ‘44.

The original Threepenny Opera production at the Shiffbauerdamm in Berlin was a landmark occasion.  The sonics on the 78s, which have seen many years of reissuing now, have been superbly restored so that they are much more listenable.  Although a few of the extremely rare song shellacs have obviously seen a good deal of previous playing, generally the sonics are a good job of restoration.

The set includes several different versions of Lenya singing her big hit, “Pirate Jenny.” It’s fascinating to hear the changes in her voice and delivery over the years. She started out with a little-girl untrained voice but blossomed into a deeper, more emotion-laden voice in the last versions here, which were even trumped by her Columbia recordings in the 1950s. The two dance arrangements are of the ”Moritat” and a potpourri from The ThreePenny, both recorded in 1929, when all Europe was whistling tunes from The ThreePenny everywhere.  Weill’s 1929 arrangement of selections for a wind orchestra are also most interesting. There are six movements, the first four conducted by Otto Klemperer.  This is quite different from instrumental versions of the music heard in more recent years.

Of course most of the lyrics here are by Weill’s lyricist Bertolt Brecht. In the “Alabama Song” of 1928 Lenya had to learn the English words phonetically because she hadn’t yet learned English.  This seems to add to the odd take on American place names which Brecht and the Germans considered exotic at that time – such as Alabama, Mississippi, etc.  There are no translations in the booklet, so you’ll have to go by those you may already have, or just enjoy the “breath of the time” on these 60-year-old shellacs, which preserve the wild and active Berlin artistic world of the late 1920s. The  ThreePenny recording boom in other countries such as France and Denmark was given a big boost by the 1931 Pabst film of The ThreePenny Opera, which starred Lenya.

A treasure-trove of Weill material, in the best possible sonics, and the end notes feature the famous 1935 photo of Weill and Lenya.

– John Sunier




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