Max Raabe met the UK press at 5pm on Wednesday, February 5 in Wigmore Hall. Some useful things about Herr Raabe: 1. He is German. 2. He leads a small orchestra and sings in front of it. 3. He is dedicated to recreating the popular music of the 1920s and 30s. 4. He is bringing his orchestra to the UK for a brief (four cities) tour of the UK in March, 2020.
We were shown a short film clip of the full orchestra and then the man himself appeared and, accompanied by a piano, performed four songs, three in German and one in English. The last selection, Speak Low, was actually written in 1943 by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash for the Broadway show One Touch of Venus. Ordinarily this would be irrelevant but he would keep going on about the 20s/30s.
In appearance and build he has a slight resemblance to the actor who plays Niles Crane in the TV show Frazier; he affects immaculate evening dress and appears to have no desire to combine singing with yoga sessions at the gym. When the intensity of the music becomes too much for him he will go so far as to lean on the piano. The forthcoming tour could easily be sub-titled “Downton Abbey: The Musical”.
I was slightly disappointed that nowhere in the press kit and/or the on-stage interview did he acknowledge The Comedian Harmonists, who surely paved the way for his kind of music. This sextet – five vocalists, one pianist – were the toast of Europe in the 30s and highly successful. The bad news: three of the six were Jewish. The good news: they were so celebrated the only things the Nazis could do was to ban them. If you ever tuned in to Radio Two during the 30-odd years Hubert Gregg was presenting A Square Deal, succeeded by Thanks For The Memory, chances are you heard The Comedian Harmonists. Raabe’s obsession with a long-dear era has been described as insanity, if so it’s one form of Mad Kraut Disease I’m all in favour of.