Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
Reviewed – 4th March 2020
“the band and Max Raabe camouflage their expertise with a delightful casualness that lets us enjoy the music on its own terms”
It has been a century since the world woke up to the dawn of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. F Scott Fitzgerald penned it the ‘Jazz Age’; an age of ‘flappers’, prosperity and the birth of pop culture, with an unprecedented output of music that is still in full swing today. The spirit is reborn at Cadogan Hall for Max Raabe’s only London date of a UK tour. A slim, dapper figure in white tie and tails, Raabe strolls onto the stage and purrs, rather than roars, through his set which transports you right back into Weimar-era Berlin. Backed by the immensely talented Palast Orchester the evening is a sumptuous show of nostalgic musicianship imbued with warmth, magic and many moments of wry comedy.
The first thing you notice is his voice; a mix of liquid gold and velvet moulded into a cut glass confection of global RP, reminiscent of the great cabaret showmen such as Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson. It drops an octave when he speaks, delivering a delicious deadpan, world-weary introduction to the songs. With pauses and beats as precise as his band, his comic timing is metronomic.
Max Raabe moved to Berlin in his twenties to study opera, financing his studies with small performances and in 1986 he founded his thirteen-piece Palast Orchester with fellow students. Their commitment to presenting their repertoire in the original arrangements (Raabe used to scour the flea markets for old sheet music and 78 records) has led them to becoming the leading exponents of the dance band music. Celebrating music from both sides of the Atlantic he opens the show explaining that he chooses the songs that ask the important questions in life; “How do we find one another? How do we get to know one another? And how do we get rid of one another?”
If I were to list the highlights of the evening, I would just be reeling off the entire set list. Kurt Weill’s ‘Mack the Knife’ stands out and perfectly illustrates the band’s authenticity. Stripped of its pop-jazz complexion it has acquired over the years, the accompaniment is restored to its mournful, scraping original. All the greats are there too; Cole Porter’s ‘Just One Of Those Things’, Jerome Kern’s “I Won’t Dance”, made famous by Fred Astaire, to whom Max bears a resemblance – even though he resolutely adhered to the song lyrics’ advice and didn’t dance. A legato “Just a Gigolo” opened with Cecilia Crisafulli on solo violin, then sung in German before segueing into the tantalising tango of ‘Varum?’. Gene Kelly’s ‘Singing in the Rain’ closes the first act, a comic moment provided by percussionist Fabio Duwentester’s (intended) skirmish with a rebellious set of tubular bells.
The musicianship is second to none and each band member is given a moment to shine in the second act’s opening number – a musical stew that brews and gains flavour as each instrument is added. The sublime Crisafulli leads on violin, giving Stéphane Grappelli a run for his money, followed by piano, guitar, trumpet, double bass, rhythm and finally the full brass section. It is a varied set, rich in technique and harmony and inventiveness, yet the band and Max Raabe camouflage their expertise with a delightful casualness that lets us enjoy the music on its own terms. “The music was written to take the audience away from their everyday problems” Raabe says. His aim is to transport us out of reality, and we are more than willing to be led by his outstanding performance into his world. They boast a repertoire of over six hundred songs – I would have happily remained to hear them all, but the time restraints allowed for just two encores.
Max Raabe is a million selling star in his native Germany. Apparently, this is his first UK tour. Surely it won’t be long until he croons his way into being a household name over here. A sublime, poignant and uplifting evening.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
Cadogan Hall then tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: