Achtung, Aufnahme!! - A short opera by Wilhelm Grosz - and works by Walter Goehr and Mátyás Seiber. © 2023 Channel Classics

CD Spotlight

Quite Eclectic

GEOFF PEARCE is entertained by three absurdist works from the 1930s

'... a snapshot of a different age, captured brilliantly.'


I had not heard of the composer Wilhelm Grosz (1894-1939) before so was pleased to listen and be entertained by this forty-one minute short opera. Grosz was one of those composers who fled Vienna and Germany during the Nazi persecution and war, and he settled in America. He was of Jewish ancestry and held prestigious positions in Berlin and Vienna as a composer, pianist and arranger. He was a student of Franz Schrecker and wrote a lot of works for film, stage and cabaret, as well as symphonic works and opera. He is a contemporary of people like Kurt Weill, but stylistically is more influenced by Schrecker and Richard Strauss, but at times his musical language is also similar to that of Weill.

Achtung Aufnahme was composed around 1930, and is called an 'absurdist' opera. The text was written by Béla Balázs, who also wrote the libretto for Bartók's Duke Buebeard's Castle and Weill's Dreigroschenoper. The music is very colourful and easy to listen to.

Listen — Wilhelm Grosz: Achtung Aufnahme
(CCS46823 track 1, 5:08-5:42) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

The composer is a fine orchestrator, writes engaging and catchy melodies and has a feeling for the theatrical. Whilst at times, his music inhabits the same world as Weill, I also find his style a little less cynical, and perhaps a bit more absurdly comical.

Listen — Wilhelm Grosz: Achtung Aufnahme
(CCS46823 track 1, 18:58-19:47) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

A good feature of this recording is that the libretto is also included so one can follow what is happening in this rather odd rehearsal. The singers and the Ebony Band are all on fine form. One is transformed to what I would imagine would have been the cabaret / theatre scene during the days of the Weimar Republic.

Listen — Wilhelm Grosz: Achtung Aufnahme
(CCS46823 track 1, 31:38-32:16) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

Walter Goehr (1901-1960) wrote Komödien in Europa as part of a review about the same time as the previous work. The text for this spectacle, which mocked the power of the entire world economy, including the Geneva League of Nations, was written by Swiss writer Ferdinand Lion. Goehr lived in Germany and then in the UK. He wrote a lot of music for the stage and film, and, like Grosz, was also a director of a record company and a conductor. He was also a student of Schoenberg. The little work presented here is very brief, lasting just over twelve minutes, is described as a potpourri and does not contain any vocal music.

Listen — Walter Goehr: Komödien in Europa
(CCS46823 track 2, 4:23-5:18) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

Stylistically, I find this is a little closer to Weill than the previous work, and is more inspired by the cabaret and dance music of the times. It makes interesting listening and the work is quite fragmented in that melodies end abruptly and odd things are often juxtaposed. This is very lively music that certainly entertains.

Listen — Walter Goehr: Komödien in Europa
(CCS46823 track 2, 8:35-9:18) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960) is the composer on this recording best known to me but I was not familiar with this little work.

Listen — Mátyás Seiber: Die vertauschten Manuskripte
(CCS46823 track 3, 3:41-4:38) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

He travelled quite extensively, but was born in Hungary and later moved to the UK and absorbed a lot of different musical styles, including jazz, so his music, like the other composers on this disc, is quite eclectic. Die vertauschten Manuskripte for soloists, choir and jazz band was written most likely in 1930 and received a performance broadcast on radio, the following year. This presentation is also described as a potpourri and is also the product of an absurdist story. There are also vocalists in this work.

Listen — Mátyás Seiber: Die vertauschten Manuskripte
(CCS46823 track 3, 6:22-7:13) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

There are moments where this is dance music of the period. I find this work rather Weill-like and there are many musical quotes. I think this piece would have totally scandalised the Nazis. It is very entertaining and almost breathless at times in its changes of mood and style, and some of it is totally absurd. I wish the libretto had been included for this work.

Listen — Mátyás Seiber: Die vertauschten Manuskripte
(CCS46823 track 3, 10:36-11:28) ℗ 2023 Channel Classics :

This is a great CD, the forces are brilliant at stylised playing and singing, with quicksilver gestures. This is truly a labour of love for Werner Herbers and Ebony Band, as well as the cast of singers. It is a snapshot of a different age, captured brilliantly.

Copyright © 6 June 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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