Two years ago, Marianne Faithfull had the 20th Century Blues in a live recording from Parisian club (RCA Victor 74321-38656-2). The intimate program was heavy on Weill, and apparently it sold well enough to justify this more ambitious project. It probably won't please the composer's family any more than Ute Lemper's Weill recordings did, but Weill is too big a composer to be limited by any one performing style, no matter how "authentic" it is.
Actually, this is one of the few recordings of The Seven Deadly Sins to be done in the original key; most singers, including Lotte Lenya in her recording from the 1950s, transpose it down a fourth. However, although the key is the composer's, Faithfull transposes her part down a whole octave to bring it into her range. The effect is not grotesque, but still it is not quite what the composer had in mind. The orchestral sound is brightened by the use of the higher key. I've almost come to prefer the darker sound of the traditional transposition, however.
The work is sung in English. The translations (not always faithful, so to speak) are by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallmann, who are relentlessly clever, thereby putting another cold layer of separation between the material and the audience.
Faithfull's nicotine-stained voice makes her a cynical Anna, old before her time. In terms of pitch, its range is small, but its expressive range is mighty. Like Lenya, Fathfull makes a virtue out of necessity, and although Anna shouldn't be virginal, there's certainly room to make vestiges of innocence shine through. That's a card few Annas play, and Faithfull's not one of them either.
Although the Family Quartet (members of Hudson Shad, whoever they might be) is not memorable, they do their parts well. The same can be said of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. More rhythmic emphasis would have helped - was the "live" setting inhibiting? Praises to Dennis Russell Davies, whose patient uncovering of detail adds to the overall success of these Seven Deadly Sins.
The four songs were recorded in the studio this past February. "Alabama Song" and "Pirate Jenny" are reprised from 20th Century Blues, except here the small ensemble has been replaced by a symphony orchestra. These songs also are done in English. Faithfull is a convincing interpreter here as well. The only problem is that the English translations (by Michael Feingold and Frank McGuinness) can't avoid comparison, usually negative, with earlier translations by Mark Blitzstein and others.
Good sound and nice packaging add to this releases attractions. But surely Faithfull could have learned a few more Weill songs to buffer that playing time a little. It would be fun to hear her in more of the composer's Broadway material.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle