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Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill

Lotte Lenya

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Album Review

A combined digital edition of Die Sieben Todsünden and Lotte Lenya Sings Berlin Theatre Songs of Kurt Weill, a pair of recordings given additional weight and texture as a result of Lenya recording them after visiting Berlin following a 20-year absence from the city — she was heartbroken on seeing the devastation that had resulted from World War II. Die Sieben Todsünden is a nine-part work for vocal ensemble and soloist, while the Berlin Theatre Songs collection essentially rifles the Kurt Weill canon for highlights, coming up, as expected, with "Moritat vom Mackie Messer" and "Seeräuberjenny," amongst others. Familiarity, however, makes the songs — and the recordings — no less a treasure. Lenya works with a small ensemble on the theatre songs, recording in fairly close quarters (going by the photos in the booklet). The recordings sound intimate, and have an impressive energy as a direct result. Lenya's pleasure at performing these songs is also evident — there is no grandstanding (indeed, she is an example of self-control), but she puts her heart into each of them, giving each song its own special due. Die Sieben Todsünden utilizes an orchestra (conducted by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg) and a vocal ensemble. Lenya sings the part of Anna, represented as Anna I and Anna II, a character in conflict with herself, her family, and even the extremes of morality. This final collaboration between Weill and Bertholt Brecht takes quite a few interesting musical turns — there is some extremely creative use of rhythm and dissonance, though not in expected ways, while the general form of the music often hints at strict tradition before unlacing said strict tradition's corsets. It's a wonderful concert work, lovingly recorded (and remastered) with subtle touches and inflections from Lenya that require repeated listenings to catch. The supporting vocalists are highly professional, but don't bring quite the same qualities to the table as Lenya does. This combined reissue is almost perfect, and it truly is unfortunate that there has to be a worm in the apple, albeit a fairly small one — while the lack of a libretto for the Berlin Theatre Songs portion is perhaps understandable, the lack of even a German libretto for Die Sieben Todsünden is all but inexcusable.

Biography

Born: 18 October 1898 in Penzing, Vienna

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Lotte Lenya was a Tony Award-winning actress/singer who appeared primarily on stage from the 1920s to the '70s, while also recording and making occasional appearances on film, radio, and television. She was closely associated with the music of her husband, composer Kurt Weill, frequently appearing in his stage works and participating in recordings of his music. More broadly, she was identified with the interwar era in Germany, which led, for example, to her casting in the Broadway musical Cabaret....
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