BWW Reviews: UTE LEMPER Brought Chilean Love to Adelaide

By: Sep. 25, 2013
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Reviewed Saturday 21st September 2013

Ute Lemper first visited Australia two decades ago and, for her 20th Anniversary tour, she has brought something new, a set of songs that she has composed in collaboration with Argentinean bandoneonist, Marcelo Nisinman, setting the love poems of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Neruda is best known as a politician, diplomat and for his opposition to the oppressive dictatorship, not just in his homeland, but anywhere such a regime existed. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Although his writing was primarily against oppression, he also wrote these love poems, that now have another life as exquisitely written songs.

Five marvellous musicians backed Ute Lemper, with jazz pianist, Vana Gierig, guitarist, John Benthal, bassist, Steve Millhouse, whose instrument has the extension allowing for a G lower than a standard bass, classically trained violinist, Micha Molthoff, and, adding to the South American sound was an instrument not often seen in Adelaide, a bandoneon, beautifully played by Victor Villena.

Most of the poems were sung in the original Spanish but a few were in the official translations, in French, by Claude Couffon and Christian Rinderknecht, or in English, by Donald D. Walsh. The programme contained all of the poems, with the English translations for those in Spanish or French, a thoughtful idea and a chance for attendees to revisit these remarkable works again and again.

These songs encompass a wide range of compositional ideas and rhythms, creating a wonderfully diverse, yet complementary song cycle. Although there is the expected influence of the Tango, there are elements of jazz and blues, with some great walking bass introducing If You Forget Me, with a suggestion of Erik Satie's three Gymnopédies, some very gentle ballads in waltz time, and much more. The influence of Jacques Brel can be felt strongly in Oda con un Lamento (Ode with a Lament). What Ute Lemper has done here, though, is not add music to the poetry, but discover the music within the poetry and compose the accompaniments based on the rhythms and melodies inherent in each poem. This has achieved a superb integration of poems and music, reflecting the inner meanings and emotional flow of Neruda's words.

There is, of course, the matter of the performance to be taken into account and, with the five top flight musicians behind her, and Ute Lemper providing the vocals, this made these songs come alive, even drawing a tear or two from members of the audience around me. She possesses a remarkable voice, with a wide range, and the ability to deliver anything from a gentle whisper, to a high clear note, to a growl, and any other effect that she feels needed to convey the meaning of a song. She also has that skill of sounding like a trumpet and launching into a solo, or scatting like a jazz diva.

With a career covering cabaret, contemporary music, theatre, musical theatre, and film, as well as being a visual artist, and with a previous project setting the writings of Charles Bukowski behind her, Ute Lemper has an incredible array of skills, knowledge and experience to draw upon. She brings all of this to bear on these songs, interpreting them in a manner that could be described as "above and beyond the call of duty", delving deeply into the poems and investing herself fully in expressing them.

There was plenty of opportunity for the musicians to shine, too, both in the accompaniment, introductions, codas, and in spaces left for instrumental bridges. Such is the variety of the songs that every member of the band has opportunities to take a prominent role, enabling the audience to appreciate just how good they are.

The audience was very enthusiastic about this new song cycle, and many took advantage of the discount offered by buying the new CD and the concert programme together. This is another brightly shining contribution to the world of music from this amazing lady and, hopefully, she will find more projects like this in the future.

Following the short interval, and switching from a stunning floor length burgundy dress to a sparkling black one, Ute Lemper returned to the stage to perform some familiar songs from the German Kabarett of the time of the Weimar Republic, and the French Cabaret of the war and post war period. These were all given the Ute Lemper treatment, making them fresh again with, exciting arrangements and her very special interpretations, based on a love and knowledge of the songs and the times in which they were written and performed.

This shorter second half contained many well known favourites, including Bertolt Brecht's and Kurt Weill's Bilbao Song, written for Lotte Lenya, Lili Marlene, written by Norbert Schultze and made famous by Marlene Deitrich, Friedrich Hollaender's risqué double meanings in They Call Me Naughty Lola, Jacque Brel's Amsterdam, more Weill and Brecht with Die Moritat van Mackie Messer (The Ballad of Mack the Knife) from The Threepenny Opera, interspersed with some more modern show tunes, with the title tune from the musical, Cabaret, and All That Jazz, from Chicago, then returning to Mackie Messer for an audience participation, an hilarious whistle-along, and an encore on Milord, by lyricist, Georges Moustaki and composer, Marguerite Monnot, made famous by Edith Piaf.

Applause and a standing ovation at the end of the concert, and even more applause and another standing ovation following the encore, attested to the enthusiasm Adelaide audiences have for Ute Lemper and her works. This was a very successful concert and not to be forgotten easily. Hopefully, it will not be too long before we have a chance to see her performing here again.