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The strident, socially conscious agitprop songs and ballads from 1929 to 1937 of Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) announce the onset of a Fascist era where soulless plutocrats despoil the earth and its denizens for the sake of filthy lucre. Sound familiar? If timely again, alas, Eisler’s highly dramatic settings of lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for stage productions of the latter’s plays lack the sensuousness of compositions by Kurt Weill, another Brecht collaborator in the theatre.

In bulk, Eisler’s messages can sound like hectoring. Fortunately, the refined German baritone Holger Falk, an alumnus of the Regensburg Cathedral Boy’s Choir who later worked with Franco Corelli, maintains musical virtues here. A diversely talented singer whose repertory ranges from Lehár’s The Merry Widow to Peter Maxwell Davies’ monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King and Yannis Xenakis’ Oresteia, Falk expresses direct emotion in his singing. He is also a rare German able to manage musically and linguistically the mélodies of Francis Poulenc (also released on the MDG label). Last year, Falk released a CD of songs by Erik Satie (MDG6131926), again seconded by the pianist Steffen Schleiermacher, who plays with a certain unkempt bonhomie appropriate for the rebellious themes of the material.

Schleiermacher’s uneven CD booklet notes, hampered by generalisations and clichés, might have been substituted with much-needed translations of Brecht’s fundamental texts, here provided only in the German original.

Benjamin Ivry Read the full review on Agora Classica

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