Aficionados of American popular music of the 1920’s and 30’s will be appreciative of the recent CD of Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester. This is a collection of twenty-one of their refreshingly orchestrated musical pieces, many previously available on DVDs, with 15 vocals by Max Raabe in English. Included are such favorites as “Singing in the Rain,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and “These Foolish Things.” The one page liner notes indicate this presentation are suggestive of what music might have developed in pre-World War II Germany without the Nazi suppression of German culture.
For those unfamiliar with Max Raabe’s style, picture a sparsely art deco appointed stage with two tiers of an evenly divided dozen musicians on the right and left side of the stage. A plain white backdrop amenable to dramatic chromatic effects sets off the players. At stage level, in front of the stage-right players, are the pianist and several guitarists/banjoists. There is an aisle between the tiers to the backdrop, at the entry to which sits a beautifully gowned lone female, a violinist. Mr. Raabe’s microphone is center stage at the proscenium. He spends most of the time when not singing leaning against the baby grand, and comes forth, dressed in tails, singing in an understated and droll fashion at appropriate intervals. Mr. Raabe’s wide-ranging voice is particularly effective because of his straight-forward approach of letting the music tell its story. The musicians, attired in formal evening wear, are each skilled in several instruments. They are totally involved and provide constant playful animation during each presentation. As such, much of the attraction of the Orchester is lost without the visual richness of a live presentation. Those unfamiliar with this “shellac style” will find this collection a rather plain rendition of many popular standards of that time. It would be enjoyably worthwhile to view one or two of this group’s previous DVD’s before purchasing this CD.