Paris Days, Berlin Nights
Vogler String Quartet, Ute Lemper & Stefan Malzew
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The title Paris Days, Berlin Nights is a little misleading. One might expect French songs about morning-after regrets and German ones about living cynically hedonistically, but this collection goes way beyond that. It includes songs about war, abandonment, the indifference of time to human suffering, and gritty street life, with music by Piazzolla and Polish-Jewish composer Chava Alberstein in addition to the expected Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Jacques Brel. Uniting them all is Lemper's incredible voice and sense of drama, no matter what language. The energy she puts into songs such as Der Graben or Ballade vom Wasserrad is so great, it's hard to believe that no physical harm is done, but she comes right back every time, putting just as much into the next one. She is well supported by the Vogler Quartet and accordionist/clarinetist/pianist Stefan Malzew, all of whom come close to matching Lemper's intensity when needed. Malzew made all the arrangements, and they are very well done. They not only provide interesting, textural accompaniment to the voice, the gestures also support the character and theme of the texts. Malzew even sneaks in little details, such as quoting La Marseillaise in L'Accordéoniste or a sustained, high-pitched note (like what is heard when a grenade falls) in Der Graben. Although the album's title might not fit the contents, Lemper and colleagues do make these culturally diverse songs go together. The concentration of their passion keeps the set as a whole from becoming desperately bleak and gives the music a fascinating presence.