Walter Goehr: Malpopitaby Jin Wang
Some who collect older recordings of classical music on shellac and mono vinyl may be acquainted with the name of Walter Goehr; as conductor, he made hundreds of recordings of classical music ranging from standard classics to total obscurities for a wide variety of mostly budget labels between 1933 and his untimely death in 1960. But even relatively few among such collectors would be aware that Goehr was also a composer and a pioneer in the uniquely European form of radio opera. Between 1929 and 1932 -- when he and his family relocated to London so Goehr could accept a position as a music director at the Gramophone Company -- this member of the Schoenberg school was one of the busiest composers in German radio. "Malpopita" (1931) was his second opera for radio, a Dadaistic comedy combining futurist elements with Brechtian irony; young Adam (sung by Thorsten Hennig) is sick of working in the Metropolis-like factory that employs him and longs to escape to the exotic island of Malpopita to live a life of ease and comfort. He quits his job, boards a ship for Malpopita, falls in love with the captain's daughter Evelyne (Lilia Milek), and finds a rival in Steuermann Richard (Klaus Wegener), who ultimately becomes so jealous that he threatens to kill Adam. However, the whole company winds up shipwrecked on Malpopita and all bets are off when oil is discovered on the island; poor Adam is forced to return to a life of a faceless employee again working a backbreaking job. Goehr's music utilizes all of the stylistic forces available to him in 1931 Weimar Germany; machine-like percussion, angry shouting voices, vague and nebulous early serialism -- more reminiscent of Goehr's earlier teacher, Ernst Krenek, than Schoenberg -- and the tart, slightly twisted continental jazz sound usually associated with Kurt Weill, whose works Goehr often conducted in these years. As a good radio opera should, the work has a continuous flow and works mainly to illustrate M. Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Seitz's quirky libretto; there are almost no set pieces such as arias, duets, and ensembles and sound effects are utilized. Topically it's like a cross between Brecht/Weill's "Der Lindbergflug" and Paul Abraham's "Der Blume von Hawaii," but it doesn't contain story elements that would have annoyed the then-emergent National Socialist Party; indeed, they might have liked "Malpopita" had it been underscored by a less radical composer. So "Entarte Musik" "Malpopita" probably isn't -- Goehr himself was luckily out of the country before the Nazis took power in Germany -- but for aficionados of Weimar culture and the contemporaries of Weill this will be a highly desirable and even rewarding item. A couple of reservations, though, and not minor ones: first, the recording -- which is live -- is very distant and reverberant, though it's basically distinct. The other complaint is about the typesize of the booklet notes, which is tiny and overprinted onto a stylish, grey background design of a tropical island; fancy looking, but just about impossible to read, difficult even with a magnifying glass. The full libretto is included, though, and the performance is dedicated and enthusiastic; the Malpopita company was formed out of the Komische Oper Berlin and you can sense the musicians believe that this work -- considered lost until shortly before this recording was made -- is a major discovery. And it is.
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