Tuesday 9 August 2016

EIF 2016 – Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret, or, Histories from a Vanished World

I always enjoy spending time in this particular musical world. What made this show unique was the presence of Barry Humphries as compere and sometime performer. This gives the evening a particularly personal touch as Humphries describes its origins in his discovery of a case of Weimar era music in a secondhand bookstore in Melbourne, brought there by one of the era's exiles. Alongside Humphries's masterfully delivered, and often moving, anecdotes we have cabaret songs performed by Meow Meow, and orchestral pieces performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra directed from the violin by Richard Tognetti.

The musical selection includes plenty of Weill (unsurprisingly), but also Hindemith's Kammermusik Op.24 No.1 (why his work doesn't get more performances I don't know) and a wonderful selection from Krenek's Potpourri. The Australian Chamber Orchestra were, to my ears, heard to better advantage here than in their Queen's Hall concert on Saturday, and Tognetti was excellent in the solo part of Brand's Black Bottom. I also very much enjoyed the rare chance to hear Toch's Geographical Fugue.

I was less convinced by Meow Meow. She was very fine in the over the top sprechgesang and stimulated orgasm of Schulhoff's Sonata Erotica but elsewhere she seems to me not always to realise that less is more, nor was her diction as precise as these songs, where the words are key, really need. She is not in the same league as Ute Lemper in Weill's Pirate Jenny for example. It was also telling to compare her delivery with the much more understated, but consequently more powerful, performance from second violinist Satu Vanska (I think) in Hollander's Wenn ich mir was wunschen durfte. And yet, in the encore, Weill's Benares Song, Meow Meow tapped into that same understated vein to powerful effect – I wish she'd done more of this through the evening.

A further performance follows this evening. Rare repertoire and the magnetic Humphries make this well worth catching.

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