Lady in the Dark Symphonic Nocturne (arr. Robert Russell Bennett)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recorded between 12-14 January 2004 in the Lighthouse Concert Hall, Poole
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: January 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.557481
Duration: 74 minutes
Kurt Weill’s two symphonies may not have contributed anything vital to the development of the form in the twentieth century but they make fascinating listening in respect of both Weill’s own career and of contemporary musical currents. No.2 (placed first on the disc) was completed after Weill settled in Paris in self-imposed exile from Germany in 1934, around the same time as the ballet-cum-cantata “The Seven Deadly Sins”. The first two movements are inevitably clouded by the political tensions of the era, which the finale tries to shrug off with a mixture of gritted-teeth optimism and desperate bravado. There are passing suggestions of Hindemith here, sardonic humour verging on the Mahlerian there, even – at the start of the finale – pre-echoes of Alan Rawsthorne! But even while you are reminded of other composers, you are constantly drawn back to Weill’s own world by the characteristic turns of melodic phrase, tangy harmonies and sublimated popular dance rhythms familiar from his stage scores.
Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra make out the best possible case for a work that has done better on record than in concert, projecting the taut rhythms of the first movement and bittersweet world weariness of the second with equal conviction, and investing the finale with plenty of character.
The First Symphony dates from 1921, just before Weill began his studies with Busoni. The echoes of Hindemith are inevitably stronger, with occasional hints of Mahler and Stravinsky, while its single-movement form suggests the influence of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1. Its serious tone, from the portentous opening to the sombre conclusion, is well caught in this performance, with the sectional structure and continual tempo fluctuations convincingly held together.
The Symphonic Nocturne drawn from Weill’s 1940 musical play “Lady in the Dark” by the elder statesman of American theatre arrangers, Robert Russell Bennett, doesn’t pretend to be much more than a medley of the show’s numbers, but it’s enjoyable for all that. The Bournemouth Symphony can turn on the Broadway razzmatazz with the best of them, but Alsop and her band also keep us aware of the poignancy of the music’s mid-century urban sensibilities, which in turn points to the underlying continuity between Weill’s European and American personas.
Like the symphonies it is recorded in a warm, spacious and clear acoustic.