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Music for a While: Weill Variations

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Any ensemble with a female vocalist performing a program based on the songs of composer Kurt Weill calls for immediate comparisons to such iconic interpreters of the composer's repertoire by actress/vocalist Lotte Lenya (who was married to Weill) and actress/vocalist Uta Lemper. But Music for a While is not afraid of such obvious references. The Norwegian quintet features some of the most open-minded musicians on the fertile Norwegian scene—actress/vocalist Tora Augestad, multi-instrumentalist and leader of the Balkan-tinged Farmers Market Stian Carstensen, trumpeter Mathias Eick, tubaist Martin Taxt, and drummer Pål Hausken (who also plays with In The Country)—and their impressive resumes promise an ensemble that can easily stand comparison with other interpreters of Weill's innovative work.

Music for a While follows Weill's career, beginning with his German period in the 1920s and his collaboration with Bertold Brecht (including songs from the 1928 opera The Threepenny Opera), moving to his years in France after the Nazis took power in Germany, where he composed a number of chansons, and finally to Broadway and Hollywood, where he wrote some of American musicals' seminal songs. Accordingly, the songs are performed in German, French and English. The ensemble does not try to deliver radical interpretations, preferring to color these time-tested gems with its personal touch.

The casting of Augestad is brilliant, conveying a wide spectrum of feelings with an arresting charisma, intelligence, playfulness and charm. She can be fragile and suggestive on her reserved delivery of "Ballade Von Der Sexuallen Hårigkeit," ironic on "Seeråuberjenny," or detached and sorrowful on "Mackie Messer," all from The Threepenny Opera. Her performance of the tango-based "Youkali" is sober, reflecting on Weill's wish to escape from Europe to the States (the Youkali, or land of our desires) but suggesting that there really is no such place. On "Surabaya Johnny" and "Je ne T'aime Pas," she alternates cleverly between anger, reconciliation and ache over lost love.

Carstensen's accordion and Eick's trumpet engulf Augestad vocals sensitively, always stressing her masterful vocal delivery. On their short solos they sound as if they are extending Augestad implied feelings, turning them into miniature musings on the lyrics. Carstensen's steel guitar adds a heartbroken country ballad touch to "September Song" and "Ballade vom ertrunkenen Mådchen," but the warm breathy sound of Eick's trumpet and Augestad's reserved vocals keep it from sliding into sentimentality. The ensemble shines on their touching and meditative cover of the only non-Weill composition, Hanas Eisler's "An den kleinen Radioapparat," and clearly enjoys assisting Augestad in taking "Alabama Song" by storm.

Hopefully more of Weill's music will be coming from this fine ensemble in the future.

Track Listing: Ballade Von Der Sexuallen H

Personnel: Tora Augestad: vocal; Stian Carstensen: accordion, steel guitar, banjo; Mathias Eick: trumpet; Martin Taxt: tuba; P

Title: Weill Variations | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Grappa

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