Bye-Bye Berlin (CD review)

Marion Rampal, vocals; Quatuor Manfred; Raphael Imbert, saxophone and bass clarinet. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902295.

In order to give you an idea of the theme behind this album, I quote from the booklet note, which does a better job than I could do: "English writer Christopher Iserwood's fictionalised Berlin memoirs, Goodbye to Berlin, provided the title for the 1951 Broadway play I am a camera, adapted from Isherwood's novel. His stories also later inspired the 1966 musical comedy Cabaret (notably starring Lotte Lenya) and the scenario for Bob Fosse's 1972 film version. Writing after his departure from Berlin in 1933, Isherwood's optical metaphor evokes one of the most striking and characteristic aesthetic principles that influenced all cultural life in 1920s Berlin, that of 'Neue Sachlichkeit,' or 'New Objectivity.' The movement was considered the essence of modernity, as practised and theorized by many artists."

The album Bye-Bye Berlin includes seventeen songs, airs, and lieder from the 1920s Berlin era, composed by such notable persons as Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, Hanns Eisler, Friedrich Hollaender, Bertolt Brecht, and others. The French singer-songwriter Marion Rampal (no relation to the Jean-Pierre Rampal) does the vocals, accompanied by the Quatuor Manfred, a quartet made up of Marie Bereau, violin; Luigi Vecchioni, violin; Emmanuel Haratyk, viola; and Christian Wolff, cello; and featuring Raphael Imbert on saxophones and bass clarinet.

Ms. Rampal is principally a jazz singer, with a wonderful range, and does up the songs in both German and French. Her accompaniment is principally a classical quartet, but they adapt nicely to the more-popular rhythms of the jazz-inflected music; and Mr. Imbert is principally a jazz and improvisation artist who provides a strong backbone for most of the scores.

Here's a rundown on the selections:
  1. Kurt Weill: Youkali (from Marie Galante)
  2. Erwin Schulhoff: Chanson (from Cinq Études de jazz)
  3. Kurt Weill: Die Morität von Mackie Messer (from The Threepenny Opera)
  4. Kurt Weill: Barbara-Song (from The Threepenny Opera)
  5. Erwin Schulhoff: Andante molto sostenuto (from First String Quartet)
  6. Paul Hindemith: Ouvertüre from The Flying Dutchman
  7. Arno Billing (Mischa Spoliansky): The Lavender Song
  8. Jan Meyerowitz: Help me Lord (from The Barrier)
  9. Hanns Eisler: Nein (from Kammerkantate Nr. 6)
10. Kurt Weill: Langsam und innig (from String Quartet in B Minor)
11. Kurt Weill: Ballad of a Drowned Girl (from Das Berliner Requiem)
12. Hanns Eisler: Solidaritätslied (from Kühle Wampe, oder: Wem gehört die Welt?)
13. Hanns Eisler: I saw many friends (from Die Hollywood Elegien)
14. Friedrich Hollaender: The Ruins of Berlin (from A Foreign Affair)
15. Friedrich Hollaender: Black Market (from A Foreign Affair)
16. Friedrich Hollaender: Falling in love again (from The Blue Angel)
17. Alban Berg: Die Nachtigall (from Sieben frühe Lieder)

Marion Rampal
The program presents a fascinating and enlightening look at the cabaret scene in Berlin in the 1920's and early 30's. More important, it's well sung and well performed by the jazz and classical artists involved. Ms. Rampal's dark-toned vocals have a kind of longing, melancholy tinge to them, as though trying to make us aware of the hope of an age and, from a future perspective, the horrors to follow. The accompaniment supports her with a mutual compassion, appearing to share the contradictions of the music.

Favorites? As usual, some things struck me as a tad bland, while many others were hard to resist. The opening Kurt Weill song sets the tone for the album. The sorrowful instrumental by Erwin Schulhoff that follows makes a skillful transition into the familiar "Mack the Knife" tune. And so it goes. Listeners who appreciate the musical Cabaret or just listeners who appreciate classical or jazz music will doubtless find the selections of interest.

Finally, an informative, forty-odd-page set of booklet notes in several languages complete the package. Musically and sonically, it's is a worthy treat.

Producer Alban Moraud and the Alban Morand Studio made the recordings at Cite de la Voix, Vezelay, France in November 2016. The voice is nicely placed in the center front, with the ensemble realistically laid out behind her. The frequency balance seems nearly perfect, although the instruments tend very occasionally to overpower the vocals. So, one can hardly fault the sonics, which come through in lifelike fashion.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa