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Uncle Dave Lewis, May 2010

Since about 1989, Capriccio Records in Austria has been running an ambitious program to record all of the theater works of composer Kurt Weill and has covered territory that few others would remotely consider. Capriccio has brought such mega-obscure works as Der Kuhhandel, The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken, and The Firebrand of Florence to compact disc for the first time with good casts and conductors such as Jan Latham-König, John Mauceri, Andrew Davis, and others. Capriccio has well earned its pat on the back, but in the case of the “world-premiere recording” of Weill’s long-lost, first stage work Zaubernacht (Magic Night, 1922) it appears that Capriccio is unfortunately a bit ahead of the scholarship. This recording was made by Celso Antunes leading the Ensemble Contrasts in 2001; at that time, only a piano reduction of Zaubernacht was known to exist. Figuring that nothing more would ever be known of a work unpublished and lost for so long, arranger Meirion Bowen rescored the incomplete piano reduction back into the chamber nonet format that Weill’s biographers had stated the work had originally been cast in; the results were premiered in Cologne in 2000 and were warmly received.

Capriccio’s recording of Zaubernacht clearly reveals that Bowen did an exceptionally good job of it; moreover, Antunes and Ensemble Contrasts provide a most even-handed and warm reading of this music, in addition to soprano Ingrid Schmithüsen’s finely sung take on the only song in the ballet-pantomime, “Lied der Fee.” In its rescored form, Zaubernacht sounds very typically Weill; fine, though bearing in mind that Weill did not arrive at what is regarded as “typically Weill” until Der Protagonist in 1926. Other early works, such as his one-movement Symphony (1921), Violin Concerto (1924), and even the orchestral Quodlibet (1924) arranged from Zaubernacht itself sound most un-typical. Nevertheless, Bowen’s good deed did not go unpunished; in 2006, the nine original instrumental parts for Zaubernacht were discovered in a locked safe in the basement of Yale University. They have since been edited and were published as part of the Weill edition in 2008. The newest edition awaits its first recording, and when it appears, it, too, will be a “world-premiere recording.”

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