REVIEW – Ute Lemper (Edinburgh International Festival)


German singer Ute Lemper takes the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to the cabaret as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, with this evocative and pitch-perfect journey through some of the most famous songs of the first half of the twentieth century.

Lemper glides onto the stage in black dress and killer heels after the SCO have set the decadent mood with Kleine Dreigoschenmusik, a medley for woodwind, brass and percussion from Weill and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Led by the animated American conductor Lawrence Foster, the whole of the SCO then provide the musical accompaniment for Lemper’s charismatic evocation of the sound of the Weimar Republic, standouts including a wickedly sly rendition of Die Moritat von Mackie Messer and the haunting hymn to the hope of a better world, Youkali.

Lemper’s voice is remarkable, filling the Usher Hall with a range which slips from seductive smokiness to heart-piercing power with effortless ease. Foster and the SCO are obviously enjoying themselves, playfully bringing the big band and jazz-tinged music of Weill, Kander & Ebb and Gershwin to life.

After the interval, the SCO return with an excerpt from Stravinsky’s Scènes de ballet, the striking string stabs and refrains encapsulating the mood of post-war Europe. Lemper then returns, leaving Weill behind and summoning the spirits of Piaf and Dietrich to the stage, with highlights including a jazzy scat intepretation of Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss and a powerfully dramatic rendition of Eisler’s anti-war Der Graben.

Things are brought to a close by the hypnotic Padam.. padam, a song made famous by Piaf. As the strings of the SCO swell like the dark currents of the Seine, Lemper’s voice soars to an emotion-drenched crescendo, providing a movingly powerful close to an evocative evening dominated by a remarkable presence and voice able to resurrect these classic 20th-century songs like no other.

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