Fine conspectus of Kurt Weill from the LSO and Simon Rattle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Weill: Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples, Alessandro Fisher (tenors), Ross Ramgobin (baritone), Florian Boesch (bass-baritone), London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 28.4.2022. (MB)

Magdalena Kožená, Sir Simon Rattle, Andrew Staples Alessandro Fisher, Ross Ramgobin, Florian Boesch and the LSO (c) Mark Allan

Weill – Kleine Dreigroschenmusik; Vom Tod im Wald, Op.23; Street Scene: ‘Lonely House’; Four Whitman Songs: ‘Beat! Beat! Drums!’ and ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’; Die Sieben Todsünden

The opening of Kurt Weill’s Kleine Dreigroschenmusik struck a properly anti-Romantic note, the Overture clearly growing out of 1920s’ Neue Sachlichkeit, the ‘Anstatt-dass Song’ likewise wearing its post-Busoni-and-Hindemith constructivism wisely on its sleeve, a hard edge supplied by banjo and piano. In between, the ‘Ballad of Mackie Messer’ showed something a little more yielding, rapport between saxophone and piano especially noteworthy. At times, it perhaps felt a little too conducted, but there is a difficult balance to strike here. An intimate, inward account of ‘Polly’s Lied’ and a surprisingly fast — if only in context — ‘Kanonen-Song’ worked well in tandem. Simon Rattle tied things up nicely in the Finale, whose temporary ghostliness trod a thin yet necessary line between alienation and something that might just have been pathos. In the excellent hands of the London Symphony Orchestra brass, its Chorale proved properly inscrutable.

We remained with wind band for the little ballad-like cantata, Vom Told im Wald, for which Rattle, his players, and Florian Boesch gave a compelling, sepulchral performance which, like the rest of the programme, never exaggerated, without quite straying into the world of understatement. Those who like Weill to go to extremes may have been disappointed, but there was much to be said for an approach, especially in the concert hall, that underlined his more ‘purely’ musical qualities, as well as the more traditional side to his acuity of verbal response. Weill’s flirtation with less tonal realms contrasted strongly with ‘Lonely House’ from Street Scene (Andrew Staples), its ‘American’ style well captured, now with the luxury of a full complement of LSO strings, idiomatic without cloying. Two of the Four Walt Whitman Songs, more interesting to me, were shared between Ross Ramgobin and Staples. The vivid quality of Ramgobin’s ‘Beat! Beat! Drums!’ had us see as well as hear the bugles and drums. ‘Dirge for Two Veterans’ proved nicely ambiguous in its military response.

For the ballet-chanté, The Seven Deadly Sins, Rattle conducted the LSO without a score. Strikingly dressed and coiffured in ‘Weimar’ style, Magdalena Kožená navigated the demands of song and speech alike with typical excellence, her German outstanding in clarity as well as idiom. Rattle kept the action moving, though it never sounded remotely hard-driven. This is clearly a score he knows, understands, and loves; the LSO and his cast responded in kind. That tightrope between alienation and something more sympathetic was once more intelligently trod. Well-shaped and -paced, it almost sounded over before it had begun. A fine conspectus of Weill, then, though it was perhaps a pity not to hear any of his early concert music: to my ears, generally showing the composer at his finest.

Mark Berry

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