Max Raabe and Palast Orchester
Heute Nacht Oder Nie (Tonight Or Never) (SPV Recordings, 2008)
In 1920s and early 30s, before Germany turned an ugly eye to the rest of the world and turned an even uglier to its own people, culture and arts, there existed a vibrant world of cabaret clubs, dance halls and revue shows. That world, lost in war and over time, has found a champion in Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester and the 2-CD set of their extraordinary performance at Carnegie Hall concert entitled Heute Nacht Oder Nie . The recording, out now on SPV Recordings, is an anachronistic collection of delights.
Sophisticated and wryly humorous, Heute Nacht Oder Nie plunks eager listeners square in the middle of a Weimar cabaret club with all the stunning flash of an opened cigarette case and all the sumptuous luxury of bejeweled women, tuxedo-clad gentlemen and chilled champagne. More than just a copycat act,Heute Nacht Oder Nie exudes all the fantastical avant-garde, plucky optimism and stinging irony of an age desirous of intellectual pursuits, personal freedoms and a good time. In short, Mr. Raabe and the Palast Orchester have recreated a sizzling good time.
From the opening fanfare of title track “Heute Nacht Oder Nie” to the sweetly sincere “Gib Mir Den Letzten Abschiedskuss,” Mr. Raabe and orchestra transport the listener to another world. Brilliantly orchestrated, Heute Nacht Oder Nie moves through such familiar song classics as “Singing in the Rain,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “These Foolish Things” and an utterly charming version of “Dream a Little Dream” that are better than time travel.
Taking turns with jazz, rumbas, tangos, foxtrots and German waltzes (you’ll have to listen to the CD for explanation), Heute Nacht Oder Nie casts a spell of pure delight. Mr. Raabe’s sharply clever interludes of explanations or translations capture that cabaret feel and leave the listener completely unable to resist. Sassy fun mingles among the more popular standard in the forms of “Ich Steh’ Mit Ruth Gut,” “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” and “Mein Kliener Gruner Kaktüs” that bubble up with the theatrical, slapstick explosiveness of a first-class variety show.
With a stage presence and a vocal mastery capable of wooing an audience, Mr. Raabe must surely be the reincarnation of a radio crooner with such versions of “Ich Küsse Ihre Hand, Madame,” “Du Bist Nicht Die Erste” and “Tango-Ballade.” His vocals sail across the musical landscape like a silk scarf swept up by a breeze. But I think it is the inexpressively lovely, yet solemn, choral and piano version of “In Einem Kühlen Grunde” that really brought home the idea of what was lost out of the era.
It would be criminal to not mention the tight, neat work of the Palast Orchester musicians. With bright flourishes, dizzyingly ragtime rhythms and dreamy melodies, the Palast Orchester sound is wonderfully opulent and vibrantly stunning. Heute Nacht Oder Nie overflows with the suave sophistication of a well-made martini, the seductive lure of a chorus girl’s legs and the witty humor of a culture past but not out of reach.
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