Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Raabe / Israel @ Wigmore Hall, London

5 February 2020

Max Raabe

Max Raabe

Max Raabe is mostly known for being the vocalist for Das Palast Orchester and their interpretations of ‘swing-style’ music from the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s. For Wednesday evening’s short concert, though, Raabe joined with pianist, arranger and composer, Christoph Israel for a more muted recital of songs of the era. There was elegance to the evening; pianist and singer were dressed in stiff collars and full white tie and tails, and the material was delivered with a charming lightness of touch, suggesting perhaps a musical accompaniment to afternoon coffee in Berlin or Vienna, or even a relaxed after hours session in a small nightclub.

The songs were not listed, and Raabe’s light-voiced announcements of them were not always easy to hear, but many were from composers known for their genius with a catchy tune: Walter Jurmann, Werner Heymann, Ralph Erwin and others, who, around this time escaped the Nazi regime, some making their names in Hollywood. These were songs made famous by the likes of Richard Tauber or The Comedian Harmonists: Veronika, der Lenz ist da, Liebeslied, Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame.

Raabe, by his own wry admission (prior to delivering Jurmann’s Cosi cosa in a less bravura account than Mario Lanza’s), is no tenor, which, given the generally high tessitura of many of the numbers would seem to put him at a disadvantage. Like many singers in the genre, though, he deploys a floated mezza voce for the songs (the microphone and amplification, here, being necessary adjuncts) that merely augments the allure of the material. The triste waltz time of Kreisler/Marischka’s Liebeslied, Jurmann’s You and the waltz and I and Jary and Baltz’s Roter Mohn took on a distant, faded quality entirely in keeping with their sentiment, and the Sprechgesang that Raab used for the verses of Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame added just as much variation as his switch between English and German.

Israel’s piano accompaniment was perfect, whether delivering the opening ‘funeral march’ of Your kisses bring sweet death, the tiny, thoughtful interludes that stood in for the occasional chorus line, or simply being consummately sensitive to Raabe’s delivery of text.

Although the concert lasted only just under the hour, there was plenty of contrasting material: the aforementioned waltzes and Ländler; the tango feel of Jurmann’s Du bist nicht die Erste or the mood change from Heymann’s minor key ballad Liebling, mein Herz lässt dich grüßen into Raabe’s own Ich bin Schuld.

There is no shortage of albums by Das Palast Orchester, some of them featuring songs in this concert, albeit in much blowsier arrangements, but Raabe and Israel might consider recording some of these pared-down tracks for wider listening, as they weave a special and demure enchantment of their own.

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Raabe / Israel @ Wigmore Hall, London