The Times: "has shades of Dietrich herself"

Review by Neil Fisher, The Times.

Four stars

Opera singers love to dip into the music of Kurt Weill — and often the result is a grinding clash of gears. Weill’s muse and wife, Lotte Lenya, knew how this music was supposed to go: raucous and ragged — all the better to inject the caustic energy into the composer’s seedy Berlin collaborations with Brecht and a drop of acid into his later American musicals, which teeter into schmaltz. But well-schooled sopranos and mezzos alike often just sound too well-behaved.

The American mezzo Kate Lindsey bucks the trend on her new recital for Alpha Classics, increasingly the go-to label for exciting projects with intelligent young artists. She unleashes a chesty alto register on the opening Brecht number, Nanna’s Lied, while her ripe delivery of Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man, from Brecht and Weill’s Mahagonny, has shades of Dietrich herself.

Lindsey never sounds as if she’s dragging her voice anywhere it doesn’t want to go. She is incisive with text, in German and English alike, and on one Weill number written for the cabaret star Lys Gauty, Je ne t’aime pas, her French is just as impeccable: while the lyrics insist the singer isn’t pining for the man who left her, Lindsey’s sensuous wistfulness says the opposite. Weill songs new to me include a witty “break-up letter” (Der Abschiedsbrief, with words by Erich “Emil and the Detectives” Kästner), Buddy on the Nightshift, written with Oscar Hammerstein for the American war effort, and the giddy Berlin im Licht, an ode to the German capital’s shiny allure. All told, Lindsey finds a lot more to Weill than just rasping dames in fishnet tights.

It’s a slightly eccentric collection. Lindsey and her forthright accompanist, Baptiste Trotignon — who has devised some clever new accompaniments to replace the usual Weill plink-plonk piano — dress up Weill’s songs with Viennese composers from the early 20th century. Not all of it fits together. Emotionally freighted songs by Alma Mahler and Alexander Zemlinsky (who were briefly a couple) sit oddly here, although two heady numbers by Erich Korngold, composed while the Austrian prodigy was practically a zygote, have a decadent shimmer, and singer and pianist find bluesy tints in these harmonically slithery numbers. It’s Weill’s bittersweet melodies, however, that will bring you back to this flavoursome recital. (Alpha Classics)