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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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 John 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa