a cultural musical journey – part II

time to continue with some musical culture – or whatever one considers culture. after all it is always deeply personal and what i find musical, others might classify as noise!

nonetheless here are some more favourites of mine:

TORI AMOS – night of hunters

this is tori amos’ most classical album, which is fittingly influenced by classical music pieces which she has taken as inspiration and/or reworked into heartwrenching works of art. there is really no real way to describe this album other than saying put it on, close your eyes and listen. it goes from simplicity to monumental and back and is full of gems (and you get to hear tori’s daughter singing on several tracks as well!). the highest recommendation possible – this is no easy listening but it shoots right to your emotional core!

night of hunters

good place to start: star whisperer, your ghost, job’s coffin

UTE LEMPER – punishing kiss

ute lemper always divides opinion and here she is at her most ‘kunstdiva’ possible, which i mean as a great compliment. she interprets modern songwriters such as nick cave, elvis costello and the divine comedy and adds her own inimitable flavour to it – as well as throwing in a classic by kurt weill (in a duet with neil hannon from the divine comedy). this is cabaret in its most progressive form and ‘kunst as kunst can’. artful but in no way artificial.

punishing kiss

good place to start: little water song, tango ballad, you were meant for me

CYNDI LAUPER – at last

whoever still considers cyndi lauper a pop-relic from the 80s, should listen to her take on standards and classics from burt bacharach, edith piaf, etta james or nina simone (just to name a few) from 2003. i promise you that your jaw will drop as her vocal abilities make them sound fresh and anew and the arrangements go from sparse and faithful to slightly cooky. it feels like a breath of fresh air blown all over you and the whole album is full of highlights (and her version of piaf’s hymn to love is simply to die for).

at last

good place to start: hymn to love, at last, unchained melody


in germany, everyone knows hildegard knef who has been immortalised through songs such as ‘für mich soll’s rote rosen regnen’ (who still remembers that she was the first german to have a hit in a long-running broadway musical with ‘silk stockings’ though…) – ella fitzgerald once called her ‘the greatest singer without a voice’. admittedly she was not your usual singer, but more an interpreter and the way she used her smoky voice via enunciation and accentuation was shere perfection, as her phrasing was always immensely musical and intelligent.

in 1970 she took on modern ‘vibes’ and created an album that was both forward looking as well as tradiotional, both avantgarde and highly unique. the lyrics are witty and critical (as in ‘herren dieser welt’) and are typically knef. this is german chanson at its very best!


good place to start: ich brauch’ tapetenwechsel, herren dieser welt, friedenskampf und schadenfreude

MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND – all things will unwind

if you like sufjan stevens, you might have come across my brightest diamond before, as shara worden (how she is known in real life) has collaborated with him frequently on his albums, so you might have heard her voice before. her own style is, quite similar to sufjan stevens, highly personal and quirky and combines many different musical styles. this is a singer/songwriter at her most developed stage with a voice that seems both angelic and earthy and comes right out of heaven.

all things will unwind

my brightest diamond live on youtube

good place to start: we added up, high low middle, i have never loved someone

THE TIGER LILLIES – shockheaded peter

whatever one considers to be ‘twisted cabaret’ or ‘dark cabaret’, the tiger lillies are it to a 1000%! nothing about them is conventional – from the high-pitched vocals of martyn jacques to the orchestration of ukulele, piano, harmonica and more, it is just what defines the genre. it is quirky and alternative without sounding arty-farty and it makes you smile even when the stories told are dark and gruesome. ‘shockheaded peter’ is called a trash opera and based on ‘der struwwelpeter’ (a book of moralising children’s tales that is very well know in germany … and you wonder why we have a word such as ‘schadenfreude’????!!!) and i first discovered it as a stage play (of course with the tiger lillies performing). the mere aural version on its own still conveys much of the stories, as you see poor harriet burn in front of your inner eye and robert flying away in a storm. it is truly exceptional and so much worth a listen (should you ever see it being performed live, i implore you to book a ticket straight away!)!

shockheaded peter

excerpt from shockheaded peter on youtube

good place to start: flying robert, bully boys, the dreadful story about harriet and the matches


stay tuned … more music to follow in the near future as one can never have enough cocktails or culture!



music that makes me dance … or listen and swoon – a cultural journey from nouveau classical to electronic beats

browsing through my extensive music library which spans many centuries of music, i have been getting out old and new favourites of mine, which i want to share. keep your ears open and your feet dancing (more or less) to those jewels of music culture:


philip glass is considered one of the forerunners of the minimalist movement. his music can often seem repetitive but i also found it multi-faceted and highly absorbing. this two cd-set consists of the song cycle ‘songs for liquid days’ (with lyrics by laurie anderson and suzanne vega amongst others!) and a collection of excerpts from his ‘trilogy’ operas (akhnaten, satyagraha and einstein on the beach). the mix of classical and electronic music is splendid as you have operatic splendour, highly emotional overtones, bouncing rhythms and more (songs from liquid days is more electronic than songs from the trilogy). it is rounded by vocalists of the highest order (i.e. linda ronstadt and the roches in liquid days and operatic voices such as paul esswood and douglas perry)

(as the two cd set seems out of print, links are to the separate albums)

songs from liquid days

songs from the trilogy

good place to start: changing opinion & freezing (liquid days) – protest & knee 5 (trilogy)

KATE BUSH – the dreaming

this 1982 album finds kate bush at her most individual and experimental – there is not a single note of mainstream. this is not merely pop, this is musical art and it can take a while to enter the sound world completely as it is such a multitude of sound samples, instruments and melodies that it inhabits a complex universe of its own. but this universe is truly and soundly kate bush! it might not consist of popular hits but it will linger in your ears long after having heard it.

the dreaming

good place to start: sat in your lap, suspended in gaffa & the dreaming

MARIANNE FAITHFULL – before the poison

marianne faithfull is such a great artist, that whatever she touches nowadays seems to turn into a wonder of feeling and wisdom where every note and word and each and every sigh and hush matters. teaming her up with such innovative artists such as nick cave and pj harvey is here like coating a diamond with platinum. it is raw, sometimes rough but at the same time involving and deeply personal. and the last song of the album with its layers of music boxes is true genius!

before the poison (or for the actual cd and not merely mp3: before the poison cd)

good place to start: city of quartz, the mystery of love & there is a ghost

SUFJAN STEVENS – the age of adz

sufjan stevens seems to be able to do whatever he wants musically – folk, rock, neo classical and for this majestic work, he employs electro to amalgamate all into one big soundwall. it is eery with layers and layers of words and music coming together in his own inimitable style. you really need to sit and listen (and you will probably start dancing) as it is no background music! his slightly etheral singing style really floats on the arrangements and culminates in a 25 min epic closing track…

the age of adz

good place to start: vesuvius, i walked & impossible soul

PATRICK WOLF – the magic position

i came across this by accident years ago, is i found the cover so quirky that i felt the urge to have a listen – and was struck by the vivacy of the music and a voice and songwriting that struck me as deeply unique. even though patrick wolf’s music can be quite dark, this album has a very joyous and life-affirming quality and always does the trick to uplift me energetically if i feel a bit tired. plus it is limb-shakingly wonderful too with its electro beats and violins and piano and all! (having marianne faithfull as guest vocalist on one track is intriguing too)

the magic position

good place to start: the magic position, get lost & magpie

ELKE BRAUWEILER – twist in saint tropez

being better know via her band PAULA, elke brauweiler always had an affinity for french music (even with paula, there was a les rita mitsouko cover) and here she flung out to do an album of popular and obscure french music (gainsbourg et al), mostly in an electronic dress with the occasional guitar thrown in. this is dance music at its best with its forward-going rhythms. i would call it arty dance music as it is no dancefloor trash. there is an honesty in the presentation that shows the deep love for this kind of french ‘chanson’ (i use the term in the widest possible sense!) and it is truly fabulous.

twist in saint tropez

good place to start: ouragon, pourquoi tu vis & laisse tomber les filles

KATERINE – mes mauvaises frequentations

i cannot believe that it has already been 20 years since the original release of this gem! french easy listening at its best. katerine later turned more electro but this early album is all french charm and lounge – it feels like a summery breeze where you sit in the shade sipping drinks. nonchalance in its purest form and it will accompany a great cocktail party with friends as well as a lighthearted evening at home.

mes mauvaises frequentations

good place to start: mon coeur balance, parlez vous anglais mr katerine & les grands magasins

JANE BIRKIN – rendez-vous

english by birth but somehow a ‘french’ nouvelle vague icon (via her relationship with serge gainsbourg and the notoriety of their single je t’aime moi non plus), she never had a strong singing voice, but what she has, she uses in a very artsy way. to make much of little, she teamed up with partners such as bryan ferry, feist, brian molko, francoise hardy and mickey 3d for this album and the finished product is a multifaceted mixture of glacial style and french cool. it is a very rewarding listen and sounds to me like the aural equivalent of an arthouse film (with some added selfmockery in the first track!).


good place to start: je m’appelle jane, t’as pas le droit d’avoir moins mal que moi & pour un flirt avec toi

… more cultural highlights to follow soon – there is still the need for tori amos, my brightest diamond and many more hidden gems! plus another venture into classical music is long overdue. food for the ears 🙂

advent advent … a time for bach’s christmas oratorio

as christmas is nearing, it is time for some cultural tips again. and what is better for the festive season than some JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH? i absolutely adore his WEIHNACHTSORATORIUM (christmas oratorio) and between first advent and christmas i listen to it daily (yes, you can call me a freak…).

now as there are many versions around, i thought i would give an idea of my personal favourites. they might not be to everyone’s taste but they are all worth a listen. i have to state two things first (not to disappoint anyone):

  1. i like bach light, lithe and with flowing rhythms, sentiment does not come through leaden tempi (this rules out the recordings under kurt thomas and the thomanerchor – even though it has fabulous soloists! – as well as the recording under karl richter with the overblown sound of the bachchor münchen – also, what a line up of soloist: wunderlich, janowitz, ludwig…)
  2. for the alto part i very much prefer a woman’s voice (this rules out the otherwise fabulous version under rene jacobs, even though andreas scholl sings magnificently, for the christmas oratorio i favour a female alot, as it gives the music more gravitas and warmth)

so, my preferred versions and listening guide for the wonderous world of the WEIHNACHTSORATORIUM are:


nikolaus harnoncourt with the concentus musicus wien and the arnold schoenberg chor:


this version is neither fast nor slow, but the rhythms are well sprung and it dances along. to my ears it just sounds right from beginning to end. The choir is very pointed in articulation and the way Harnoncourt highlights the drumming and the trumpets in the opening chorus is joyous and festive at the same time. there is real ‘jauchzen’ in the music making. the soloists are a sound lot, from werner güra’s mellifluous evengelist to christine schäfer’s vibrant and husky soprano and bernarda fink’s deeply felt alto. one highlight is gerald finley’s spectacular ‘ großer herr und starker könig’, but the highlights are many! for me this version is perfect from beginning to end 🙂

riccardo chailly with the gewandhausorchester and the dresdener kammerchor:


many critis considered it too fast when released but there is so much joy in the music making! it sure starts racy but then the opening chorus is one of rejoycing and it makes sense. having bach performed where he wrote most of his music does make it special. the soloists are a sound lot as well, young, commited and slender voiced, with carolyn sampson shining especially. it is a very refreshing version!

sigiswald kuijken with la petite bande:


the novum in this recording is that it does not use a choir, the choruses and chorales are sung by the four soloists who make up a ‘one-voice-a-part-choir’. the result is a very intimate version (that also uses a small orchestra) that is gentle as well as genteel. there is a clarity in the singing that makes the music sound felt and lived. not a hint of overblown proceedings here. a true version for conaisseurs.

hermann max with das kleine konzert and the rheinische kantorei:


a period-style instruments version again (as are the harnoncourt and kuijken!) that sounds slender but festive. choir and soloists are all native speakers and use the language as if spoken. it might not boost any individual stand-out but the sum of the parts is much more: it has a swinging character to its proceedings which is not as quick as chailly and less accentuated as harnoncourt but makes you smile all along!

enoch zu guttenberg with the orchester der klangverwaltung and the chorgemeinschaft neubeuern:


guttenberg really creates something special with his chorgemeinschaft neubeuern – they are with him all the way and the accentuation of the music is quite special (which also means it is not to everyone’s liking … but very much to mine). they seem to live the joy of the words, bring out the hushed character of the chorales when required. it just feels as if they create each syllable they sing at the very moment it comes out of their mouth which is completely spellbinding. a good group of soloists completes the picture. a must-listen!

jan willem de vriend with the capella amsterdam and thecombattimento consort amsterdam:


a very colourful version on period instruments which dances along as well. there is no want in gravitas and the singing is a breath of fresh air. if you like your bach lithe and playful with a no-nonsense approach then this is a wonderful starting point. it also comes in the shape of a book and the booklet has lots of background information on the work itself. makes a great present … and is a great joy listening to as well.


as i get easily carried away, i better stop here … 6 recommendations are enough as otherwise one will feel between a rock and a hard place and not knowing what to choose. although there are two more  honourable mentions, which is the version under john eliot gardiner (https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/classic/detail/-/art/Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Weihnachtsoratorium-BWV-248/hnum/2522691), which was for a long time leading the field in HIP versions but feels a bit too clean nowadays, even though the choir is beyond reproach and the soloists (especially anne sofie von otter) are sound – and the version under ralf otto (https://www.jpc.de/jpcng/classic/detail/-/art/Johann-Sebastian-Bach-1685-1750-Weihnachtsoratorium-BWV-248/hnum/2643773), which is a bit too middle-of-the-road in order to be a first recommendation, well sung as it is though (with ruth ziesak as a radiant soprano and christoph pregardien as a star of an evangelist) … it comes at budget price and is worth having. actually, all of the above are worth having as they all offer something different! 🙂

ask santa, he might bring you a version for christmas!






autumnal comfort food: potato and choucroute mash with fried shallots (vegetarian / vegan option) with a side of edith piaf

being raised and deeply cultured in germany (with parents whose origins are in eastern prussia), my first solid food when i was four months old contained potato mash and choucroute / sauerkraut plus carp (for christmas)  … probably all mashed together. thus i might be biased, but i do admit that i love choucroute!

together with potato mash it really is a comfort food for a cold day:

potato and choucroute mash with fried shallots


i was so excited about it that i could not hold the camera still and the photo got out of focus!

it is easy to make too: peel and quarter five medium sized potatoes (medium meaning that they will just about fit in your hand) and boil them in salted water with a laurel-leaf until cooked – usually takes about 15-20 minutes. once they are done drain the spuds, return them to the pot and mash them with a good two tablespoonfuls of butter (for a vegan option you can use a good quality vegan margarine), adding some fleur de sel, a teaspoon of mustard and freshly ground pepper to season. don’t overmash as you still want it to have texture.

optional you can stir in a tablespoon or two of creme fraiche to give it more creaminess (for a vegan option just skip this step! it works without the creme fraiche just as well).

drain about 200g of choucroute /sauerkraut (i use a variety that had added white wine…), which is about half a can – they usually come in cans or in kilner jars – and mix in with the mash. return the pot on the stove and gently reheat at a low temperature, stirring occasionally in order to prevent the mash from sticking to the base of the pot.

while the mash is reheating, chop up a shallot into strips and gently fry in some butter or oil with a pinch of fleur de sel until golden in colour. heap the mash on a plate (the recipe should serve two with a moderate appetite), sprinkle the fried onion on top and decorate with a couple of pinches of chilli flakes. et voila, there you have a nutritious soul-lifter on your plate. creamy and sourish! no low-carb here, but every once in a while one is allowed to go wild, plus the choucroute is good for your digestion!

it is an autumnal dish  as the colour of the onions mirrors the colour of the falling leaves  – call me nostalgic: ‘the falling leaves drift by the window, the autumn leaves all red and gold’ … listen to some edith piaf for full-on nostalgia:

EDITH PIAF – autumn leaves / les feuilles mortes

a cultural novelty item … ‘french’ music for ‘french’ baking: parlez-vous pop?

inspired by the tarte tatin, i rediscovered some ‘french’ music. now i do use the term french in the broadest sense, as it is actually a collection of songs and chansons interpreted in french by international artists (most of them german, but with some brits and others thrown in at equal measure):

PARLEZ-VOUS POP? (various artists)

parlez-vous pop

parlez-vous pop a

a little musical preview here:


while one knows that marlene dietrich and caterina valente were very international in their careers so it does not come as a surprise to hear them sing in french, some others are really surprising (not only via their accent!) … sandie shaw, conny froboess, marianne faithfull, alexandra … and manfred krug anyone? even the formidable mary roos pops up, who had a very successful career in france in the 1970s (who would have known?!)…

it is really a novelty item but an extremely pleasant one at that. it uplifts your mood and you instantly turn into a ‘frenchised’ chef in the kitchen, turning out one tarte tatin after the other. open your ears and be enchanted!

the collection was done and released by bureau-b, who always dig up nearly forgotten and exotic items. kudos to that!

music music music … marcella puppini, pt. II: the continuation, the release!

i need to come back to this extremely talented lady  MARCELLA PUPPINI (see also my post from two months ago!), as it has finally happened and her solo album has been commercially released (albeit so far in italy first … the rest of europe will follow soon) – but with the help of private sellers on amazon you can already get your imported copy. which is what i did and it arrived in the post today.

WOW, it is one great album – plus it is fun to compare the pre-postproduction (which i had the pleasure of listening to since last december) with the finished product and even though the raw version was pretty finished in itself, there are a couple of slight and major finishing touches to the final released version – plus two extra tracks!

MARCELLA PUPPINI – everything is beautiful






have a listen. tap your feet. electroswing along. be amazed! all thumbs up!

the .mp3 version via amazon.it even has 5 remixes not on the cd. being an old-school person i bought the cd though – it feels more real that way! do spread the word and be puppini-ed! 🙂

germany’s best jazz singer most have never heard of: INGE BRANDENBURG

when it comes to jazz, germany is not widely reknown to produce exceptional talent (i am not implying that there is none though!!!), but in the 1950s there emerged an exceptional singer, who i came across by accident (via a documentary on her life).

there are not many recordings of hers (most live or radio recordings) but what there is, is outstanding:


inge brandenburg inge brandenburg 2




born in 1929, she started to shine brightly in the 1950s with a musical timing and a warm voice that was quite special on the german scene those days. she knew what she wanted musically (which was jazz, jazz, jazz … and nothing else) and resisted being pushed by the recording industry into the slight corner of ‘schlager’ (those kinds of slight and simple love songs that were extremely popular in the ‘wirtschaftswunderzeit’), which resulted in her being labelled difficult and not being able to have the kind of career her artistry deserved.

in her uncompromising ways she seemed to have alienated the ‘music system’ and her later years apparently were strewn with addiction and poverty. she died in 1999 with literally not a penny to her name – sadly a comeback in 1995 was not the desired success and she slipped from sight again (when there was already something of a billie-holiday-tinge to her voice, not so much of a worn quality but a world-weariness and the sound of a life lived to the full with all its ups and downs).

it is so worth giving her a listen, as the voice just grips you completely and her sense of building a musical phrase is great, she truly belongs up there with the best of jazz singers!

PS. the documentary on her life is absolutely worth watching as well: