Classical: The Compact Collection

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Last week, composer H K Gruber dazzled Prom audiences with an audacious trumpet concerto called Ariel. This week he turns up again, acting out the country policeman Olim, a man with a conscience who is central to the plot of Kurt Weill's 1933 "play with music'' Der Silbersee, or The Silver Lake. That too was a Proms presentation, given in 1996 by the London Sinfonietta under Markus Stenz, and RCA's Henry Wood Hall recording was made at around the same time, using the same forces.

Der Silbersee was penned amidst widespread discontent and mass unemployment, and Georg Kaiser's play is a powerful commentary on the period. RCA's production centres principally on the music, which includes some of Weill's most pungent invention. The score is a model of instrumental economy, its melodic drift tinged with bitterness and the occasional hint of jazz. And while the closing sequence suggests "spring in winter's midst" and a semblance of renewed hope, much of the rest is ominous, minor-key stuff - restless and self-aware but never resigned. The recording includes memorable performances by Heinz Kruse, Juanita Lascarro and Helga Dernesch, and Stenz keeps the orchestral score light and mobile.

Three years after Der Silbersee's German premiere, Charlie Chaplin was satirising capitalism in Modern Times. Chaplin, the composer was a master of melody, and his soundtrack score features one of his best-known tunes. The trouble is that nowadays "golden age'' film-music lacks the sort of burning lyrical core that the best vintage "session players" achieved. Violinists like Toscha Seidel, Louis Kaufman and Felix Slatkin knew how to weep with the stars, and now Itzhak Perlman joins their ranks with Cinema Serenade 2.

This really is playing for the heart, a far cry from the patronising expressive overkill that lesser violin virtuosos have favoured in similar repertory. Angela Morley and John Williams share the arrangements; Williams conducts the Boston Pops, and Perlman brings a sense of inward reverie to the principal themes from Modern Times, Laura, Now Voyager, Lost Weekend, The Quiet Man, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Henry V, The Uninvited, My Foolish Heart, Gone with the Wind and (my own personal favourite) Wuthering Heights. I can't think that he has ever made a lovelier record.

And after the sugar, some spice - "old'' spice, with sizzling surface noise and a stone-age sound-frame. And yet there are active parallels with Perlman's better-recorded CD. Musical gypsies, like film composers, have never wanted for "soft-option" arrangers (Brahms and Johann Strauss being amongst the most famous). But listen to the Romanian gypsy violinist Grigoras Dinicu and the searing heat burns away any suggestion of excess schmaltz. Heifetz fell in love with his "Hora Staccato", fiddled with it, and copyrighted his arrangement - but Dinicu's 1920s original is rougher-edged, more fiery and infinitely more danceable. Symposium's "Zigeunerweisen" CD includes 18 examples of Dinicu's art, some showcasing sentimental sweetmeats, others dusky, daring If in doubt, go straight to tracks 19 and 20. It's like Irish ceilidh music laced with garlic, and the mood is electric.

Der Silbersee Weill/Stenz BMG/RCA Red Seal 09026 63447 2 (two discs) Cinema Serenade 2/Perlman Sony SK 60773 Zigeunerweisen/Dinicu, etc Symposium 1218