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Ballads of the Pleasant Life: Kurt Weill, Weimar and Exile

“You will hear music created on the brink of cataclysm, proclaiming as it does with such intensity the survival of art and beauty in a hostile world. Any new recording of music from the short-lived Weimar Republic deserves our rapt attention, and now the world-renowned Australian baritone, Peter Coleman-Wright, offers a thrilling selection from this repertoire.”
– Barry Humphries, in his introduction to Ballads of the Pleasant Life.

Distinguished baritone Peter Coleman-Wright steps off the world’s opera stages to present a rare recording of music close to his heart: the remarkable songs written as the Weimar Republic descended into Nazism in the 1920 and ‘30s, by composers at home in Germany and Austria who were then forced to flee into exile. These songs capture the spirit of the times: defiant, soulful and searching, but also capable of moments of exuberant joy and hope.

The music of Kurt Weill sits at the heart of the album. We meet Weill’s infamous creation Mack the Knife, who first saw the light of day in 1920s Berlin and soon became a smash hit. A prominent Jew, Weill fled Germany in 1933. In America, he found his new musical home in the theatre, collaborating with lyricists Ira Gershwin and Maxwell Anderson, including his hilarious catalogue of Russian composers “Tschaikowsky” and the timeless ode “There’ll Be Love, Life and Laughter”.

For Weill’s generation, music was the language of protest. Austrians Hanns Eisler and Alexander von Zemlinsky wrote popular songs from the perspective of the downtrodden: the miners, the cotton packers and many more besides.

Amidst all this, there were flashes of humour, and the desire to take the rare joys of life by both hands. The album closes with a series of love songs, often sentimental, always heartfelt: film composer Robert Stolz’ praise for the beauties of life’s autumn years; Arnold Schoenberg’s elegy to the exquisite agony of separation; and Franz Schreker’s melancholy tribute to transient love.

Peter Coleman-Wright is regarded as one of the world’s leading baritones, with a stellar career in the world’s leading concert halls including Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Met in New York and the Sydney Opera House; he finds the perfect foil for this music in the Sydney-based Nexas Quartet. The arrangements of these songs for baritone and saxophone quartet, created especially for this album, reflect a combination that would have been familiar to the clubs and bars where much of this music was first performed.

Peter Coleman-Wright baritone
Nexas Quartet
Benjamin Burton piano

Track Listing:

  • 1. WEILL Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Ballad of the Pleasant Life)
  • 2. WEILL September Song
  • 3. WEILL Les Filles de Bordeaux (The Girls of Bordeaux)
  • 4. WEILL Kanonen-Song
  • 5. WEILL Moritat von Mackie Messer (Ballad of Mack the Knife)
  • 6. WEILL There’ll Be Life, Love and Laughter
  • 7. WEILL Tschaikowsky
  • 8. WEILL Anstatt daß-Song
  • 9. WEILL Song of the Free
  • 10. EISLER Lied der Bergarbeiter (Song of the Miners)
  • 11. ZEMLINSKY Lied der Baumwollpacker (Song of the Cotton Packers)
  • 12. EISLER Stempellied (Benefit Stamp Song)
  • 13. EISLER Gruß an die Mark Brandenburg (Greetings to Brandenburg March)
  • 14. WEILL Tango-Ballade
  • 15. STOLZ Schön war’s heute Abend (This Evening Was Beautiful)
  • 16. SCHREKER Die Rosen und der Flieder (The Rose and the Lilac)
  • 17. SCHOENBERG Dank (Thank You)
  • 18. STOLZ Ein schöner Herbst (A Beautiful Autumn)
  • 19. STOLZ Ich hab’ mich tausendmal verliebt (I’ve Fallen in Love a Thousand Times)
  • 20. KORNGOLD Glückwunsch (I Wish You Bliss)
Release
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Release
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Release
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Release
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Release
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Young Australian pianist Jayson Gillham presents his third album on ABC Classics, featuring the music of two Russian friends and piano virtuosi: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 – one of the most eternally popular pieces of classical music – and the rarely performed Piano Concerto No.1 by Nikolai Medtner, written just 15 years later. For these recordings, Gillham is joined in the studio by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and their Associate Conductor Benjamin Northey. Nikolai Medtner (1880–1951) was a close friend of Rachmaninoff (they even dedicated various pieces to one another) but history has treated their music very differently. The great Australian pianist Geoffrey Tozer, who died in 2009, was a rare champion of Medtner’s music, and it was when Gillham was invited to feature in a documentary on Tozer’s life that he discovered Medtner’s work. Dedicated to his mother, Medtner’s Piano Concerto No.1 was written during the First World War. The intense drama of the music – brought out in vivid technicolour in these recordings – is irresistible, but so too is the consolatory power of music. We discover the healing balm of music again in Angel, Medtner’s work for solo piano: a meditation, as Gillham puts it, on “the rediscovery of a divine song, half-remembered, half-forgotten, of a beauty that cannot be matched on earth”. Gillham first performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the MSO in Melbourne’s outdoor Sidney Myer Music Bowl: that concert was greeted with rapture by both the critics and a cheering audience of thousands. Renewing their association in the studio just weeks later, Gillham and the Orchestra unveil fresh richness in this beloved music. The concerto is paired with the contemporaneous Prelude Op.23 No.4, which shares the same “blissful contentment”. NIKOLAI MEDTNER 1880–1951Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 331. Allegro –2. Tranquillo, meditamente –3. Coda (Allegro molto)4. Eight Stimmungsbilder (Mood Pictures), Op. 1: No. 1 Prologue ‘The Angel’SERGEI RACHMANINOFF 1873–1943Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 185. I. Moderato6. II. Adagio sostenuto7. III. Allegro scherzando8. Prelude in D major, Op. 23 No. 4 Jayson Gillham pianoMelbourne Symphony OrchestraBenjamin Northey conductorRecorded in the Iwaki Auditorium of the ABC’s Southbank Centre, 10-13 April 2017