Thursday, October 21, 2010

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (Germany) in Israel performing music from the 1920's and 1930's

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester (Orchestra) have recently completed a concert tour of Israel. Raabe (b. 1962, Germany) trained as a baritone opera singer. Moving in a very different direction, he established his Palast Orchestra in 1986, specializing in the authentic performance of German and American songs, dance- and film music of the 1920’s and 1930’s, also presenting songs of the Comedian Harmonists.

Seated in the Sherover Theatre of the Jerusalem Theatre on October 20th 2010, we were swiftly removed from the realities of the 21st century to a cabaret in Berlin of 80 years ago, to the time of the Great Depression, a time when entertainers wore well-cut tuxedos, patent leather shoes and pomade on their perfectly cut hair, to a time when na├»ve, melodious love songs provided a distraction from times that were, indeed, tumultuous. In “Tonight or Never”, singer and bandleader Raabe introduces the songs and instrumental numbers in a minimal, whimsical and relaxed manner, his patter infused with the same gentle, inoffensive humor as the songs he sings. (Surtitles were shown above the stage, providing the audience with Hebrew translations of all the songs.) Moving away from the spotlight, leaning on the piano, Raabe gives his polished and brilliantly coordinated orchestra “front stage” to play lively foxtrots and nostalgic band favorites. His saxophones are velvety, his brass players shine, percussion effects are elegant and tasteful. Instrumental playing of this level seems a breeze, the players’ jaunty choreographic effects as detail perfect as their playing itself. And nobody conducts. Many of the Palast Orchestra members play more than one instrument, and, as the evening wears on, we discover that all the men playing are also singers! The only female member of the orchestra is violinist Cecilia Crisafulli; her playing shines and appeals, her personality and solos delight the audience.

Max Raabe is a tongue-in-cheek personality, his baritone voice mellifluous and soothing, his high register bright, controlled and flirtatious. With the wink of an eye and a hint of disarming decadence he performs many of the German songs popular around the 1930’s – “Marie, Marie” (music Johannes Brandt, lyrics Marc Roland), “Mein Gorilla hat ‘ne Villa im Zoo” (My gorilla has a house in the zoo) (music Walter Jurmann, Bronislaw Kaper, lyrics Fritz Rotter), “Roza, reizende Roza” (Roza, charming Roza) (music Hans J. Salter, lyrics Fritz Rotter), “Dort tanzt Lulu” (There goes Lulu dancing) (music and lyrics Will Meisel), and many more. We were also presented with many of the best loved English language songs of the time: “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (music Fabian Andre, Wilbur Schwandt, lyrics Gus Kahn), Cheek to Cheek (music and lyrics Irving Berlin), “Alabama Song” (music Kurt Weill, lyrics Berthold Brecht), and more. I believe Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Benny Goodman and Fred Astaire were hovering above the stage that evening.

With the evening drawing to a close, Raabe still had something up his sleeve – his players performed melodies with some perfectly synchronized handbell ringing. And a final treat - all the Palast Orchestra men sang a number in a blend of bright vocal timbres so reminiscent of that of the Comedian Harmonists. In short, the audience was swept of its feet by Max Raabe and his Palast Orchestra’s superior musicianship and joie-de-vivre. This was entertainment at its very best.

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