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on August 1, 2000
Gisela May was, along with Helene Weigel and Lotte Lenya, one of the definitive postwar interpreters of the music composed for Bertolt Brecht by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau. The husky simplicity of her voice particularly suited Eisler--who despised sentimentality and valued clarity of expression. The power of Brecht's poetry shines through her delivery of songs like the astonishing "O Falladah, Die Du Hangest"--written from the angle of an exhausted horse lying helplessly on a busy street as a mob of desperate Depression-era Berliners carve up her living body for meat. This is not a comfortable image--but Brecht is showing us that economic injustice has uncomfortable consequences. Compare "O Falladah" with the "Song of the Invigorating Effects of Money" and the listener begins to understand that Brecht and Eisler deserve to be remembered not only as talented agitators for Marxist revolution but also as acute observers of human nature. One cannot say if the results of the famous Brecht-Eisler collaboration are timeless, but they certainly have a long shelf life.
Also noteworthy in this album are the "Song of the Moldau" and two anti-war hits--"Song of the Woman and the Soldier" and "Song of a German Mother." Note also the contrast between Eisler's lively, jazz-influenced style and Dessau's sometimes plodding treatment of songs from Brecht's later plays, which constitute the second half of the CD.
Like other albums in Edel's "Berlin Classics" series, the Gisela May CD offers digitally-remastered analog recordings from the GDR (East German) recording industry. One of the ironies of the political and economic collapse of GDR socialism is that its musical treasures--like the songs recorded on this CD--are now reaching new audiences in the West through the resources of the capitalist music industry.