It is surprising, in his centennial year, to find a major composition of Kurt Weill receiving its first recording, but Die Burgschaft (The Guarantee) met a quick and violent end after a promising beginning.
Launched in 1932 with productions in three German cities, it was a victim of the Nazi rise to power an event that its libretto foreshadowed obliquely in a story of an idyllic small country brutally invaded by a big one, gross abuses of power, miscarriages of justice, greed and deception.
The final words sum it up: "Everything is done according to only one law: the law of money; the law of power."
The music on this CD by Julius Rudel conducting the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra and the Westminster Choir, is instantly recognizable as Weill's. It is more solemn than the familiar music of The Threepenny Opera and less dependent on such pop forms as the tango, though a flavor of 1920s jazz can be detected.
It is a powerful score, his most ambitious work in more or less traditional operatic form and well worth knowing, though it may never reach the popularity of The Threepenny Opera or The Seven Deadly Sins.
The performance, recorded at last year's Spoleto Festival USA, is excellent. Rudel, for years the director of the New York City Opera and one of the world's leading authorities on Weill's music, was recently given a citation by the Kurt Weill Foundation for his service to the composer. The stylistic precision and emotive power of this performance show why.