Kurt WEILL (1900 – 1950)
Dagmar Pecková (vocals: all except 4, 12 & 14)
Jiri Hájek (vocals: 4, 6, 11, 12, 14)
Jan Kucera (vocals: 14)
Epoque Quartet & Orchestra
Miroslav Hloucal Jazz Band/Jan Kucera (piano)
rec. Karlin Studio of the Czech Radio Prague, July 2016
Sung texts with Czech translations enclosed
SUPRAPHON SU4226-2 [75:07]
Czech mezzo-soprano Dagmar Pecková, who studied singing at the Prague Conservatory, has had a long career in Germany, for many years at the Berlin State Opera but with guest appearances in many of the big opera houses in Europe and, occasionally, the US. Fairly early, in 1992, she was engaged to sing the role of Jenny in Weill/Brecht’s opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny in a production at the Staatsoper Stuttgart, directed by Ruth Berghaus. During eight intense weeks of rehearsal and discussions about how to sing Weill’s music, she found that it was worth exploring it further. Other assignments during a busy career made her postpone the exploration, but then, a couple of years ago she heard on the car radio a programme about Weill and Brecht and decided: Now or never! She indulged in Weill’s songs, she listened to Lotte Lenya – the one and only authentic performer, as she puts it – and this was the germ that eventually led to the present recording. Weill’s music has been performed by all kinds of singers, from the purely operatic field to artists like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Sting and Robbie Williams. Among the “classical” artists she mentions Teresa Stratas, Brigitte Fassbaender and Anne Sofie von Otter and all three have the ability to scale down the voice to avoid over-kill. Ms Pecková also approaches this repertoire more straightforwardly than many an average opera singer would do. The opening song, Surabaya Johnny from Happy End, is a splendid calling-card for the whole recital with truly expressive singing and the refrain is sung meltingly beautifully. Occasionally during the programme one notices that all the years with heavy operatic roles haven’t passed unnoticed. There creeps in a beat in the voice now and then, but it is rather slight and doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the music negatively. There are quite a few songs that are fairly unknown but also a generous helping of old friends from Die Dreigroschenoper. A personal favourite is Youkali, which I first heard last summer in a cabaret depicting the career of Coco Chanel. It is a tango, written while he was in Paris in 1933, after he and Brecht had finished their last collaboration, Die sieben Todsünden. Youkali was part of the music he wrote for Jacques Déval’s play Marie Galante and here it is played as an instrumental piece for almost four minutes before the vocalist enters. It is surging music that catches at once. From the same year is also Der Abschiedsbrief, a setting of a poem by Erich Kästner, and intended for Marlene Dietrich. Whether she ever sang it I don’t know but it was first recorded by Teresa Stratas in 1981 and has also seen recordings by among others Ute Lemper, Anne Sofie von Otter and, most recently, Kate Lindsay, to be reviewed before long.
Back to 1927 we hear Berlin in Licht, composed to commission for Berlin’s gas and electricity companies for a festival of light. It is sung here by the excellent baritone Jiri Hajek. From the same year is Das Lied von den braunen Inseln, written for his wife Lotte Lenya, whom he had married the year before. It was also in 1927 that he met Berthold Brecht. Their first collaboration was the Mahagonny-Songspiel, which was followed next year by Die Dreigroschenoper, an updated version of Gay and Pepusch’s The Beggar’s Opera, which was premiered exactly 200 years earlier. Five songs from this highly successful work are included. In Zuhälterballade Dagmar Pecková is joined by Jiri Hajek and Kanonensong is sung by Hajek and conductor Jan Kucera.
Sprinkled in between some of the Dreigroschen songs are one further song from Paris 1933, Je ne t’aime pas and two numbers from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny from 1930: Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man and Alabama Song, here wrongly attributed to Die Dreigroschenoper. Finally there are also two songs from the last phase of Weill’s career, in the US where he lived and worked from 1935 until his death in 1950: Buddy on the Nightshift to a text by Oscar Hammerstein II from 1942 and I’m a Stranger Here Myself with lyrics by Ogden Nash from 1943. The former is excellently sung by Jiri Hajek and the latter’s bluesy atmosphere is superbly caught by Dagmar Peckova.
Contributing greatly to this highly entertaining disc is the idiomatic playing of the Epoque Quartet & Orchestra and Miroslav Hloucal Jazz Band and the inspired conducting by Jan Kucera. He also wrote the arrangements for half a dozen of the songs, while Lukas Sommer and Miroslav Hloucal answered for the remaining songs.
Lovers of Kurt Weill’s music should find a lot to admire on this well-filled disc, which also offers very informative liner notes on the music and a personal essay by Dagmar Peckova on her relations to Weill’s music.
1. Surabaya Johnny (from Happy End) [6:06]
2. Youkali (from Marie Galante) [9:47]
3. Der Abschiedsbrief [3:51]
4. Berlin Im Licht [2:30]
5. Das Lied von den braunen Inseln (from The Oil Islands) [2:55]
6. Zuhälterballade (from Die Dreigroschenoper) [5:44]
7. Die Seeräuber-Jenny (from Die Dreigroschenoper) [5:23]
8. Barbarasong (from Die Dreigroschenoper) [7:26]
9. Je ne t’aime pas [4:35]
10. Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt mann (from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) [4:25]
11. Alabama Song (from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny) [4:39]
12. Buddy on the nightshift (from Lunch Time Follies) [4:56]
13. I’m a Stranger here Myself (from One Touch of Venus) [4:04]
14. Kanonensong (from Die Dreigroschenoper) [3:04]
15. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (from Die Dreigroschenoper) [4:24]