WEILL: Symphony No. 2 (1933). Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, Op. 12. Suite from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin/Berlin Philharmonic Orch/ Mariss Jansons, cond.
EMI Classics 575685 (F) (DDD) TT: 70:44 

The Symphony and Suite are session-recordings, the Concerto is a live performance, all in the Karajan Philharmonie that can be as quirky as it looks inside. Producer John Fraser and his balance engineer, Mike Clements, cope creditably with the hall's acoustic anomalies in the two session-recordings; they succeed in making it sound like a coherent concert venue instead of a console mix from multiple inputs. The Concerto, however, finds the soloist separated from the orchestra—as if the expert Zimmermann were playing, say, in one of those isolation boxes used for Adolf Eichmann's trial in Israel. Get thee back, EMI, to the Jesus Christus Kirche in Dahlem. It may echo, but does provide a homogenous blend.

The program is a mixture of Weill's styles. In the wind-accompanied Violin Concerto of 1924, sans tunes, but ingeniously put together, it is spiky without employing the radical formulas of his teacher, Schoenberg. In the Second Symphony, completed in Paris after he fled the Third Reich, we encounter an uneasy mixture of neo-Baroque a la Hindemith (they were neck-and-neck competitors in the last years of the Weimar Republic) and an operetta style adopted for his first collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, The Three-Penny Opera, but without melodic distinction. Although conventionally structuredl, none of the symphony's three movements has an expressive through-line.

Finally, there is Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg's 20-minute pastiche from the other major collaboration with Brecht, Austieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. The one tune that sticks is "Moon of Alabama," but by the third or fourth repetition it has worn out its welcome. This is not to chastise Jansons or the Berlin Philharmonic; they do everything with an expertise lacking only in commitment to a rather puny cause.

You want to hear music of real grit from the Weimar years (and after)? Try the Berlin Classics reissues of Weill's chief competitor in the Berlin theater, Hans Eisler. The best of Weill, other than Three-Penny, came later than the contents of this disc—his Broadway music once he'd left Europe in 1935; best exemplified by "September Song" and "The Saga of Jenny."

R.D. (Oct. 2000)