Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

The Boston Symphony's Season Highlights World War II-Era Music

IN a year full of events commemorating the 50th-anniversary of World War II's end, the Boston Symphony has programmed a number of concerts that draw together threads of musical history. Last week, a particularly intriguing combination of works by two Germans and an Austrian was performed, with additional concerts to follow.

The orchestra, under guest conductor John Mauceri (music director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra), played Paul Hindemith's prelude to ''When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd,'' Kurt Weill's ''The Seven Deadly Sins,'' and Erich Korngold's Symphony in F Sharp.

About these ads

Hindemith, who became an American citizen in 1946, was enormously appreciative of his adopted country and a great admirer of President Franklin Roosevelt. He dedicated the cantata, also known as the ''Lilac Requiem'' to Roosevelt's memory, developing his theme around a poem by Walt Whitman. The poem itself concerns the death of another wartime president, Abraham Lincoln.

The Hindemith prelude was an appetizer to the rest of the concert, a short but intensely powerful work that featured continuous low bassoon notes like the drone of fighter planes. Layered over the bassoon was unrelieved drumming that moved the piece deftly and inexorably forward.

The centerpiece of the evening was ''The Seven Deadly Sins,'' and the orchestra was joined by German singer and recording artist Ute Lemper and a quartet of male singers. Lemper, who has made the torchy cabaret songs of Dietrich and Piaf her specialty, captivated the audience.

More of a song stylist than a classically trained singer, Lemper turned her smoky alto into an instrument that swooped, caressed, scorned, and sighed as the music dictated. She also looked the part: A smoothly coiffed cap of blond hair, seriously arched brows over wide expressive eyes, and high cheekbones highlighted a face that registers the ennui and decadence of 1920s and '30s Berlin.

Weill, who delayed leaving Berlin until it was almost too late, was on Hitler's list of ''degenerate'' artists because of his Jewish heritage. He had collaborated with playwright Bertolt Brecht on ''The Threepenny Opera,'' and sought Brecht out when he escaped to Paris in 1933. The playwright was persuaded to write lyrics for ''Seven Deadly Sins,'' a satirical look at bourgeois morality. In it, a young woman named Anna and her alter ego (both sung by Lemper) leave home to earn money. They face all the temptations: Sloth, Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, and Envy. The male quartet, symbolizing family disapproval, keeps a running tally of Anna's trials.

The Boston Symphony played cleanly and precisely, giving the Weill melodies the lean, hungry quality his music requires. Sultry and streetwise, Lemper sang the German as if tasting each syllable. Tenors Richard Clement and Frank Kelly distinguished themselves in the quartet.

Erich Korngold is best known for his film scores, especially the one for ''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' with Errol Flynn. Korngold was also on the Nazi hate list, and when Austria was overrun, he escaped to Hollywood.

About these ads

The Symphony in F Sharp was also dedicated to Roosevelt, and contained the sweeps of velvety sound that movie directors still crave. The piece paints a panorama of heroism and is unabashedly gorgeous.

The next, and last, commemorative concert of the 1994-95 season will be performed April 20, 21, 22, and 25 with Seiji Ozawa conducting Hans Krasa's Symphony for Small Orchestra. Krasa, who was Jewish, spent time in Theresienstadt concentration camp before being killed in Auschwitz in 1944.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.