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Paris Days, Berlin Nights / Ute Lemper, Vogler Quartet

Release Date: 03/20/2012
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30009
Composer:  Louis Maitrier ,  Michel Emer ,  Kurt Weill ,  Hanns Eisler  ...  Performer:  Stefan Malzew ,  Ute Lemper ,  Frank Reinecke ,  Stefan Fehlandt  ...  Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vogler String Quartet Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo

2012 GRAMMY® Nominee! - Best Classical Vocal Recording

Chanteuse Ute Lemper and the Vogler Quartet journey through the European songbook of the Weimar years - from Paris to Berlin, to Argentina's nuevo tango and to Eastern Europe. Stefan Malzew's delicate yet powerful arrangements bring an urgency and haunting sensuality to the universe of these stories.

R E V I E W S:

"One of the year's best chamber-music albums...the Vogler's capture all the playfulness and electrifying drama of these finely nuanced songs- the quartet is the perfect foil for the passionate Lemper's celebrated sensual theatrics."

-- Strings Magazine

Read more backing from the Vogler Quartet, Lemper makes a triumphant return to ground we first found her tilling in the 80s kicking it out on a Kurt Weill chestnut and imbuing it with a passion and fervor that sails well past performance into a deep place that summons up 1930s Weimar cabarets. Mixing Weill with Brel into a glorious work of despair that is anything but despairing to listen to, you have to think what a mind blowing mentor Lemper would be to “American Idol” contestants who think bombast means talent. Easily her best, most recharged date in years, Steinway gets extra credit for going beyond their original mission to provide a recording home to Steinway artists that didn’t have record deals. With this and Canadian Brass, they’ve really arrived as a classical label. She’s singing in French and German and delivers a set that’s a monster in any language. If you’ve had the misfortune of not falling under Lemper’s spell before now, this is a great, new jumping in point. Hot stuff throughout."

-- Midwest Record

"The German cabaret singer Ute Lemper recently teamed up with the Vogler Quartet, an adventurous classical ensemble founded in East Berlin in 1985, for a potent new album, “Paris Days, Berlin Nights.” Lemper, a commanding and fluid singer, is particularly gifted at interpreting Weimar-era compositions, and her new record features a revealing cover of the Brectht/Weill standard “Surabaya Johnny” as well as renditions of later works like Hanns Eisler and Kurt Tucholsky’s trenchant antiwar song, “Der Graben.” The Paris component of the album, several songs made famous by Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, is surprisingly effective and offers a refreshing Gallic contrast to the darker German material. The quartet’s meticulous arrangements were crafted by the conductor Stefan Malzew, who joins the group on accordion, piano, and clarinet."

-- The New Yorker

"With the first song that the German cabaret artist Ute Lemper performed, she gave her audience an evening’s worth of intensely expressive singing and riveting drama...Stefan Malzew made the subtle, textured and brilliant arrangements. With its multilayered string harmonies, his version of “Elle Fréquentait” introduces modernist touches to the song. Ms. Lemper’s vulnerable yet classy singing grippingly put them across. Her vocal colorings, whether nasal, grating, husky, angelic or sultry, pulled you into every word, every phrase...She sang two familiar songs by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht: “Surabaya Johnny” from “Happy End” and “Mack the Knife” from “The Threepenny Opera”. Yet in these inventive arrangements and with her bleakly beautiful delivery, the songs seemed utterly fresh."

-- Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

"The title Paris Days, Berlin Nights is a little misleading. One might expect French songs about morning-after regrets and German ones about living cynically hedonistically, but this collection goes way beyond that. It includes songs about war, abandonment, the indifference of time to human suffering, and gritty street life, with music by Piazzolla and Polish-Jewish composer Chava Alberstein in addition to the expected Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Jacques Brel. Uniting them all is Lemper's incredible voice and sense of drama, no matter what language. The energy she puts into songs such as Der Graben or Ballade vom Wasserrad is so great, it's hard to believe that no physical harm is done, but she comes right back every time, putting just as much into the next one. She is well supported by the Vogler Quartet and accordionist/clarinetist/pianist Stefan Malzew, all of whom come close to matching Lemper's intensity when needed. Malzew made all the arrangements, and they are very well done. They not only provide interesting, textural accompaniment to the voice, the gestures also support the character and theme of the texts. Malzew even sneaks in little details, such as quoting La Marseillaise in L'Accordéoniste or a sustained, high-pitched note (like what is heard when a grenade falls) in Der Graben. Although the album's title might not fit the contents, Lemper and colleagues do make these culturally diverse songs go together. The concentration of their passion keeps the set as a whole from becoming desperately bleak and gives the music a fascinating presence."

-- Patsy Morita, All Music

“I have never been unfaithful to this root repertoire I represent,” says chanteuse Ute Lemper. “I am an ambassador to the European songbook of the Weimar years — the Brecht, the Weill, the Piaf, the Brel, the Kabarett . . . . It’s a great responsibility and I’m proud to bring this music out into the world.” Released by Steinway & Sons (Listen’s parent company), Lemper’s newest album, Paris Days/Berlin Nights, takes listeners on an ethnic journey through time — via Europe and Argentina. Known for masterful Kurt Weill interpretations and a longtime veteran of Broadway muscials (Cabaret, Cats, Chicago), Paris Days . . . finds Lemper in collaboration with the Vogler Quartet, whose members lend the chansons a sound by turns delicate and powerful in considered arrangements by multi-instrumentalist Stefan Malzew, who infuses Lemper’s cunning interpretations with complementary flavorings of piano, clarinet and accordion. “We are all the same generation of Germans,” says Lemper, speaking of the Voglers. “Actually, they are from the East and I’m from the West, but I would definitely say we meet in the middle.” A North American tour followed the album’s recording and Listen caught up with Lemper near journey’s end, backstage at Carnegie Hall. “To perform this music with string quartet is just the finest way — the finest wine you can drink,” says Lemper. “These are street chansons, but Malzew elevated them to almost fantastical classical music. A satifsying situation onstage — never bombastic but psychological — it hits me right in my heart.”

-- Ben Finane, Listen

There are few better artistes on the stage today that can hold an audience in the palm of their hands than German chanteuse Ute Lemper. A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending a Lemper concert held at the Royal Northern College of Music Theatre, Manchester. As part of her 2012 ‘Last Tango in Berlin’ tour Lemper was accompanied only by pianist Vana Gierig and Marcelo Nisinman on bandoneón. The packed Manchester audience sat enthralled under the spell cast by this exceptionally talented cabaret singer. Like many of her fans in the audience I became captivated by Ute Lemper in the late 1980s with her recordings of German cabaret songs from the Weill-Brecht era. Seeing her live in concert was like fulfilling a long-held ambition in the manner of a ‘bucket list’ of things to do before one dies. The next best thing to seeing Lemper perform live is to listen to her on CD. I welcome her latest offering titled Paris Days, Berlin Nights released on the Steinway & Sons label. The disc has 13 tracks but we hear 14 cabaret songs as track 3 is a pair of Weill songs. The sung words are in six different languages and the music comes from the pens of an international cast of composers.

The German-born songstress now based in the USA is joined on this recording by her German compatriots the celebrated Vogler Quartet together with the multi-talented instrumentalist Stefan Malzew on piano, accordion and clarinet. He also prepared the arrangements. Édith Piaf’s singing of the French songs epitomises the smoky world of chanson de cabaret. Concerning a prostitute walking the seedy Rue Pigalle with the excess of her life indelibly etched on her face the song Elle Fréquentait la Rue Pigalle (Her beat was the Rue Pigalle) is by Louis Maitrier and Raymond Asso. Here Lemper creates a passionate and sultry atmosphere so evocative of the decadent Parisian quarter. Michel Emer’s L’Accordéoniste (The Accordion player) is another forlorn tale about a prostitute who falls in loves with an accordionist. This is a generally upbeat song with Lemper producing strong elements of tension and apprehension. With music and words by Jacques Brel Ne me quitte pas (Do not leave me) is an intense love song with the unhurried Lemper repeatedly pleading “Do not leave me now.”

Lemper has chosen a number of songs that exemplify the decadence of Berlin Kabarett scene in the Weimar Republic years. It is not difficult to imagine the bawdy smoke-filled cabaret rooms of Berlin between the wars. A splendid collaboration by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Surabaya Johnny is a popular song from the 1929 musical comedy Happy End. As Lillian who is disappointed that her abusive lover Surabaya Johnny has told her lies and has gone back to a life of crime Lemper is deeply intense amid the appealing and near-hypnotic rhythms. Continuing straight on the same track is the justly celebrated Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife) from Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) also by Weill and Brecht. Lemper introduces the gangster Mackie Messer (aka Mack the knife) who steals, commits murder, arson and rape. Noticeable here is the striking clarinet part played by Stefan Malzew. Tragedy imbues Der Graben (The Trenches) by Hanns Eisler and Kurt Tucholsky. Here Lemper poignantly expresses a mother’s heartbreaking love for her son who has been conscripted into the army only to die in the trenches. Next Hanns Eisler collaborates with Bertolt Brecht in Über den Selbstmord (On suicide). Singing in English Lemper creates a dark and achingly sad atmosphere around the text that deals with committing suicide by throwing themselves off bridges into rivers. Next another Eisler and Brecht song, Die Ballade vom Wasserrad (The Ballad of the Millwheel) taken from the play Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Schweik in the Second World War). In the rather puzzling and lengthy text it seemed to me that the constantly revolving millwheel serves as a metaphor for mankind’s propensity for lifelong conflict. Lemper moulds a dour and uncompromising character to the song that cleverly builds in weight and emotional tension.

Ástor Piazzolla’s tango music seems enduringly popular easily embodying the mystery and seduction of seedy backstreet bordellos in the Argentinean seaports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. To a text by Horacio Ferrer the first Piazzolla song La última grela (The Last Bordello Prostitute) is rhythmic and darkly disquieting. To her own English text Lemper is sensuous and stiflingly sultry with the captivating melody of Piazzolla’s amorous Oblivion. Buoyant and briskly rhythmic Yo soy María (I am Maria) from the tango opera María de Buenos Aires to a Ferrer text, Lemper depicts a bawdy nightclub singer who feels invincible when dancing the tango.

From the time of the horrors and depravations experienced in Russia during the Second World War Nikita Bogoslovsky (given as Bogolovsky on the CD) has penned a compellingly beautiful song Temnaya Noch (Dark is the Night). Vladimir Agatov’s text relates the tale how a young Russian soldier about to go into combat in the Steppe at night is expressing his heartrending feelings to his wife and baby. Lemper seems very much at home in the Russian song painting a poignant world of darkness and melancholy. Here I was especially impressed by the playing of the prominent string quartet part and Malzew’s haunting clarinet.

Controversial Polish born, Israeli singer and composer Chava Alperstein is famous for writing socially conscious songs. Justly renowned are her evocative Yiddish settings Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym (I stand beneath a Carob tree) and Stiller Abend (Silent Night). To what was to me an unfathomable text Ikh shtey unter a Bokserboym (I stand beneath a Carob tree) the expressive Lemper produces a sense of aching nostalgia. Here Malzew’s clarinet imbues a distinct feel of the Jewish klezmer to the proceedings. In Stiller Abend (Silent Night) Lemper starts off singing in English and continues in Yiddish. With writing that gradually increases in tempo and intensity I was struck by Malzew’s klezmer clarinet solo. On Paris Days, Berlin Nights the engineers for Steinway & Sons are in fine form: highly satisfying. I am pleased to report that full texts with English translations are provided. The minor issues that no track timings are provided and that the booklet notes are extremely poor are really the only faults.

This is Lemper the mature performer presenting a collection of cabaret songs that with two or three exceptions is not as commercial as some of her previous releases. On the whole the selections do not demonstrate their quality straightaway and will require repeated plays to grow on the listener. Lemper uses the more intimate accompaniment of only four/five players as opposed to the more traditional jazz ensemble that she used on her earlier releases. As a multilingual artiste it is typical of Lemper to sing in a number of languages; even switching tongue mid-song. Given the ease with which Lemper can steamily ramp-up the sex appeal it’s not difficult to imagine this Münster-born temptress as a film actress. With her assured, smoky-toned voice and elevated talent for expression one gets a strong sense that Lemper is not only performing her songs, she is virtually living them.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International

Not what you think. The usual sentimental journey through cabaret landmarks lurches here into an eclectic highbrow detour exceeding interpretive license in arrangements, derangements, and frank recompositions by Stefan Malzew, whose sensuously elaborate accompaniments are edged with portamenti, harmonics, and reminiscences of Berg, Webern, Dallapiccola, Ravel, Louis Armstrong, et al., as Ute Lemper favors her darker lower register in an occasionally vinegary croon verging on Schrei opera. Several numbers feature melodrama, that is, Lemper speaking with accompaniment. The fare ranges from familiar—the Weill, Eisler, and Piazzolla numbers—to such obscure composers as Michel Emer, Nikita Bogolovsky, and Chava Alberstein. Lemper supplies her own lyrics for Piazzolla’s Oblivión . And Malzew is a presence throughout in atmospheric solos, twining with Lemper and the virtuosic Vogler Quartet on piano, clarinet, and accordion. The upshot will seem distorted, bizarre, and surreal before it settles into fascination. Purists—if such exist for this repertoire—will hate it; those who’ve followed Uri Caine’s transmogrifications of Mahler, Bach, Wagner, etc., will feel at home. The romanticized whore, the horrors of war, the uncertainties of love are the main menu, though the mixture of lowlife and highbrow is such an unlikely fit that, on this sensorium at least, the upshot is less moving than drolly amazing and, at last, admiring. Lyrics and translations are provided (though an uncredited rendering of Surabaya Johnny is quite free). Sound is close, intimate, in-your-lap. Despite the equivocal reception, an enthusiastic thumbs-up for deft artistry.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis

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