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Music review: The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill (Battersea Arts Centre, London)

19 April 2024

Nicholas Cranfield hears a concert performance


I SOMEWHAT doubt whether concert promoters pay attention to the liturgical calendar, and it would be an unkindness to suggest that hearing Danielle de Niese and the forces corralled by Ed Gardner for the LPO out-of-town performance of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) in Battersea Arts Centre, in London, was any kind of penance during Lent.

The evening opened with the UK première of a Portuguese accordion concerto written by Luís Tinoco and performed by the 32-year-old João Barradas. If most of us had booked to hear the Weill, this was an immediately engaging and roiling piece, smacking more of the Atlantic ocean than the tango and a worthy successor to Penderecki and Forsyth.

But what to make of the piece? Two years ago, Sir Simon Rattle assayed the piece in concert at the Barbican with Magdalena Kožena and I have heard it performed as an opera (memorably the ENO in 1978) and seen it as a ballet (Balanchine choreography). The original Anna, Lotte Lenya recorded it two decades after the first performances as if it was a cantata.

Gardner and his Lavender Hill mob (aka LPO) opted for a concert performance in the burned-out great hall of Battersea Town Hall (1892-93, architect E. W. Mountford). The singers, kitted out from the dressing-up box at Glyndebourne, where Danielle de Niese is chatelaine, threaded their way through the orchestra.

A modern production would set the work at 10 Downing Street during the Covid lockdowns with bulging suitcases of illegal liquor, pole dancers, and the infamous birthday cake. De Niese, looking like Tracey Emin, was terrific as a cabaret chanteuse in “Pride” with her first job in show business and as the Boston seductress playing the field, but the direction (Dominic Dromgoole) and radio mics did not always help the male quartet. Callum Thorpe (bass) was outstanding as “Mother”.

Anna remarks in the “Envy” march that sin is not what you think it is; more crudely, you survive only if you are not tempted to uphold the values in which you believe. In 1933, Brecht and Weill had both fled Nazi Germany; we live with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

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