With cynicism running fairly rampant these days, it is hardly surprising that there should be a resurgence of interest in the music of Kurt Weill. His acerbic messages, cloaked in the most beguiling of melodies, have as much pertinence to our society as they did to that cloudy era known as prewar Germany.
Last night in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, Weill's bittersweet legacy was recalled in a concert designed to top off a symposium on "Germany in the 20th Century," sponsored by the National Museum of American Art as part of its current Eisenstaedt photography exhibit.
Richard Wagner's great-grandson, Gottfried Wagner, introduced the music with a brief lecture that recalled Weill's remarkable odyssey from serious student (his teachers included Englebert Humperdinck and Feruccio Busoni) to ascetic ("but not Bohemian," Wagner insisted) to satirist.
Along the way he met Lotte Lenya, a very gifted singer whose "aura of unmistakable eroticism" made quite an impression on the composer and, according to Wagner, helped propel Weill in the direction of innovative music theater. The rest, as they say, is history. A fascinating slice of that history followed the remarks, as the still very active Lenya and a most attentive audience listened to several cabaret songs and the Washington premier of Weill's early Cello Sonata.
The latter, written in 1920, is somewhat conventional, but flavored with enough of his unique personality to give it a most engaging character. It was played with conviction by cellist Jerry Grossman, who gave the first American performance last May, and pianist Linda Hall.
Soprano Joy Bogen, with Weill's former accompanist, Lys Symonette, at the piano, delivered some lesser known ballads that brilliantly captured the composer's insights into the frailties and failings of human beings, as well as the hope lingering in their dreams. Though Bogen's voice lacked security in the upper register, her intrinsic understanding of each text and her evocative stage presence gave the performance just the right touch.