Ebony Band = WEILL: Kleine Dreigroschenmusik; TOCH: Egon und Emilie; SCHULHOFF: H.M.S. Royal Oak – Soloists/Speaker/Cappella Amsterdam/ Ebony Band/ Werner Herbers = Channel Classics CCS 25109, 69:24 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Ebony Band is typical of the exciting and path-breaking music scene in Amsterdam. The ensemble specializes in adventurous music mostly from the first half of the 20th century, with a focus on forgotten music of less-well-known composers or ignored works of known composers. Many of their programs have included German and Czech music of the Weimar Republic, which was referred to by the Nazis as “degenerate music.”
The three works make up a fine program illustrating well the focus of Werner Herbers’ ensemble. The first is entirely instrumental – a suite Kurt Weill penned himself just four months after the Berlin premiere of his soon-to-be-considered-degenerate Three-Penny Opera. He adapted eight of the most popular numbers from the operetta for wind orchestra. This is one of the most enthusiastic performances of the familiar music I have heard.
The work by Ernst Toch is a short satire on opera, using a libretto by the poet and humorist Christian Morgenstern. Subtitled “No Family Drama,” it is a monologue by a put-upon contralto having a nervous breakdown. Erwin Schulhoff is now one of the best-known of the many Jewish composers who lost his life in the Holocaust. His jazz oratorio of 1930 is about a mutiny aboard a British battleship after the crew are informed by their admiral that jazz music will be forbidden from that day forward. It was based on an actual incident in the Royal Navy and partakes of much of the parodic slant of Weill in such works as Mahagonny. However, it is not as successful at it. Both works have speakers in addition to the soprano in the Toch and a soprano and tenor in the Schulhoff, and there are English translations of both vocal works.
– John Sunier