Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester – A Stylish Cocktail with a Jigger of Wry

A sophisticated ensemble in the style of 20s and 30s supper clubs, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester evoke past glamour with brio and a wink. The beautifully turned out group, with only violinist Cecelia Crisfulli representing the distaff side, is fronted by leader/vocalist Raabe, elegant and lean in a nipped tux. Arms at his side, steadfastly deadpan, he introduces each song, sometimes translating (both German and English are employed), occasionally commenting with dry wit. At the piano, straight-backed Ian Wekworth dramatically raises and freezes his hands between verses.

“Music Maestro, Please” (Wrubel/Magidson) is a fox trot with lilting layers. Raabe’s light baritone often rises to tenor, hovering above the notes as if performing with a megaphone. During instrumentals, he steps back out of the spotlight, a classy move rarely seen. (Lighting – Dirk M. Lehmann) This evening, we’re told, is “about the important things in life: How we find one another, how we get to know one another, and how we get rid of each other.”

The Orchester

“Frieda” (Cowler/Rotter) is a bouncy two step – Cakewalk? In which one imagines a female partner wearing the little Dutch cap Adele Astaire made ubiquitous. “Love Thy Neighbor” (Gordon/Revel) and “Greta Garbo” (Reisch/Stolz) though expressionless, land droll: “ …say to the girl nextdoor/Don’t think I’m being bold, but my mother told me to love thy neighbor…” says the first; “You are my Greta Garbo/You are as blond and as beautiful” – pause – “but not as rich,” goes the second. Xylophone adds texture – The musician twirls his sticks.

Weill/Brecht’s “Moon of Alabama” arrives not molasses-like as Americans tend to perform it, but rather mid-tempo with snappy background. It’s dark and dancey; a decadent party. Conversely Brammer/Casucci’s “Gigolo” emerges in English and German with only piano accompaniment. “If you admire me, please hire me/A gigolo who knew a better day…” Raabe sings with pathos and pride. It’s like watching the air go out of a balloon. The artist embodies gravitas as effectively as satire or popular song and whistles as melodically as he sings.

Ian Wekworth and Max Raabe

“Duerme” (Fuente/Prado) is a 1930s Cuban rumba. Bongos, two violins and a viola create hip swaying rhythm. Clarinet flies under radar. The vocalist lowers his octave with flannel delivery. Lyrics of the equally infectious paso doble “Rosa” (Rotter/Salter), are translated “Last summer my heart was under great duress/When I saw Rosa in her swimming dress…” It’s the kind of novelty tune one imagines being performed in clogs.

The story of Rebner/Stolz’s Salome – a  daughter’s demand for John the Baptist’s head – is narrated in English before a German rendition. “Even though her father could fill the demand, he must’ve wondered what went wrong with her upbringing,” Raabe quips. Music is Hollywood Ali Baba, the score of a Rudolph Valentino film. Woods’ “Over My Shoulder” – about Sampson and Delilah – elicits Raabe’s comment, “Can it be that the most powerful man in the country is able to stay in office simply because of his unusual hair?!”

Arrangements are terrific, musicianship top flight. Three and four saxophonists step to the front, virtuoso violin and clarinet are both featured. Musicians clearly enjoy each other and what they’re playing. There’s a pat on the back, a jealous, raised eyebrow, comradely nods. At one point, two sing back-up.

Photo by Gregor Hohenberg

American icons Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields, and Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed (“Singin’ in the Rain”) are also represented – with the orchester’s distinctive take. Fred Astaire would’ve loved this group. Three encores leave the standing audience still applauding.

In 1985, with a strong penchant for German dance and film music of the 1920s and 1930s, Max Raabe (Matthias Otto) formed the Palast Orchester with eleven other students of The Berlin University of the Arts. Two years later, they started performing publicly and had a hit with “Kein Schwein ruft mich an” (“Nobody Ever Calls Me” or literally, “No pig calls me”.) The orchester is celebrating 20 years of performing German popular and cabaret songs from the Weimar era and American songs of the time that gained popularity in Europe.

Performance Photos by Stephanie Berger

Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester
Carnegie Hall/ Stern Auditorium

Part of Carnegie Hall’s: Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice

About Alix Cohen (1795 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.