tue 15/10/2019

Max Raabe, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Max Raabe, Wigmore Hall

Max Raabe, Wigmore Hall

The German crooner plays all too predictably to audience expectations

On his bike: Max Raabe, Germany's 'national institution'Marcus Höhn

Fair exchange? German humour, perhaps? We send Her Maj off to the Fatherland for a State Visit, and the Embassy of the Federal Republic in London reciprocates by bringing us the popular singing phenomenon – “national institution”, as he was described in last night's introductory speech – Max Raabe, for an early celebration of 25 years of German reunification.

The 52-year-old Raabe, with his boyish looks, slicked-back hair, impeccably suited in white tie and tails, is Germany's leading custodian of the songs of the Weimar era. He is quite some phenomenon in his home country, where he performs with his Palast-Orchester at venues such as the 22,000-capacity Waldbühne in Berlin. Carnegie Hall is another regular haunt. The Wigmore by his standards is tiny and the concert had sold out quickly.

Raabe explores very different repertoire from that other singer who has made a success of exporting material from this period, Ute Lemper. Whereas she is at home in the acerbic, literary, political and wordy world of Weill and Brecht, Raabe sticks to the sweeter and more sentimental end of the spectrum. These are also songs where the words are mostly decorative, rather than needing to be heard. By the standards of the Lieder-singers who normally appear on the Wigmore Hall's stage, clear diction and word-painting are things which scarcely preoccupy Raabe at all. Meaning is conveyed by other methods, such as the allusive, suggestive, Mr Bean-ish grin. Nevertheless, there is a continuous overhanging presumption that, even if they can't always be heard, double-entendres are almost certainly lurking in those words: asparagus might never taste the same again, now I've seen Raabe's leering way with “Veronika, der Lenz ist da” (song poster, above right).

At other venues, Raabe has covered tunes such as “Sex Bomb,” (whose composer, like Raabe himself, incidentally, is from the Ruhr region) and “Tainted Love”, and even Britney Spears' “Oops I Did it Again”, but these were all strictly off-menu for the Wigmore show. Here he stuck almost exclusively to material from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. His staples are sentimental songs made popular by the Comedian Harmonists such as “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt/Falling in Love Again” from The Blue Angel (1930). One exception, which nevertheless fits the same stylistic mould, was “Die Liebe kommt, die Liebe geht”, which is Fritz Kreisler's 1910 “Liebesleid”, to saccharine-sweet words written a few years ago by Herbert Grönemeyer.

The duo's way of bringing expressiveness to endings is to stretch them

One interesting and worthwhile theme which ran through the programme was the inclusion of several songs by the adaptable Vienna-born songwriter Walter Jurmann (1903-1971). There were numbers from his Berlin period from the mid-1920s to 1933, such as “Veronika, der Lenz ist Da”, and also from his American film-composing years (“Love Song of Tahiti" from Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and “You, and the Waltz and I/Remember Vienna” from the 1942 Seven Sweethearts).

Pianist Christoph Israel is Raabe's regular duo partner, the two having known each other since their schooldays in Westphalia. He provided sympathetic and discreet accompaniment, and the two also have a polished whistling duet routine. It was interesting to see what happened when the harmonies became more colourful and descriptive, such as in the bridge of “Sweet and Lovely”. Whereas jazz musicians would relish them and bring them out, Israel takes a rather more perfunctory approach. The duo's way of bringing expressiveness to endings is to stretch them, progressively quietening and slowing them down, a trick that by the end was becoming rather too predictable.

Raabe knows exactly what his audience is expecting from him, delivers it precisely, and as they say in Germany, schwups di wups, "it's done". The performers announced their final number at the three-quarters of an hour mark. With four encores, the whole thing was done and dusted in just over the hour. It had gone by quickly, but was probably about the right length for this same-ish material, and for an audience keen to get to an Embassy reception.

Asparagus might never taste the same again, now I've seen Raabe's leering way with 'Veronika, der Lenz ist da'

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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