Picks and Pans Review: The Unknown Kurt Weill Teresa Stratas, Soprano Richard Woitach, Piano

updated 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/11/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Aaron Copland once commented that Weill, in his masterpiece The Threepenny Opera, "wrote a music so ordinary and trite that before long every German newsboy was whistling it." The remarkable songs in this LP will have you whistling too. But as Copland added, "Do not be fooled by Weill's banality. It is a purposeful and meaningful banality if one can sense the deep tragedy hidden in its seemingly carefree quality." "Banal" is hardly the word for the lush, haunting melodies of the 14 songs here, composed between 1925 and 1944. What gives Weill's work its great impact is the tension between the vulgar and the transcendent. It dovetails in the prescient 1928 Petroleum Song-one melody dreamily leading to another, clipped and harsh. The lyricists include Bertolt Brecht, Jean Cocteau, Oscar Hammerstein II and Weill himself. The late soprano Lotte Lenya, Weill's widow, heard Stratas sing Jenny in the 1979 Metropolitan Opera production of his Mahagonny. Lenya wrote the Canadian soprano that "nobody can sing Weill's music better than you do" and offered her these songs, which she had guarded since her husband's death in 1950. There's no arguing with Lenya. Stratas unfolds Weill's layers of meaning with an emotional range rivaled only by the vibrancy and poignancy of her voice.

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