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Concert Review: Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

By Jennifer Bastien

February 21, 2010 9:20 pm

As the 12-member Palast Orchester began to play Thursday night, and Max Raabe stepped out with his distinctive baritone, impeccably dressed in coat and tails, Royce Hall was immediately transformed into an elegant ballroom of the bygone era of the 1920s and ’30s.

The old-fashioned sound of the Palast Orchester includes such classics as “I’ll Kiss Your Hand, Dear Lady,” “Cheek to Cheek” and “What A Difference A Day Makes,” as well as many other German standards, while Raabe’s succinct introductions to each composition make an understanding of German unnecessary. To begin the evening, he explained that the topic of the night’s compositions would be human relationships ““ how to fall in love and how to get rid of each other, among other things.

Formed by Raabe more than 20 years ago, the Palast Orchester gives 150 performances a year around the globe, including in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, of what Raabe calls “tasteful elegant nonsense.” Raabe originally imagined the show as a one-time gig, bringing light to the difficult times of the Weimar Republic in Germany. But much like his remaining boyish looks, the music of the Orchester is a lively, timeless piece of entertainment and thus escapes becoming a purely nostalgic museum piece.

Each song was different, with violin solos, duets and a charismatic trio performing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” there was not a dull or repetitive moment in this performance. And while the audience members were mostly more than 50 years old, there was a modern feeling to Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester that can and should be enjoyed by all.

His sardonic, German-accented speech and the very apparent camaraderie of the orchestera made the performance seem at least partly a comedy act, and these moments in between songs were as enjoyable as some of the compositions themselves. Between the expressive theatricality of the pianist and the bumbling slapstick of the drummer, it was difficult not to laugh.

Yet despite the deadpan delivery of Raabe’s dialogue and the comedy of certain moments, when he began to sing, the joking was over. His voice was full of emotion, clear, crisp and smooth, bringing tears to the eyes of more than a few audience members. His range is incredible, reaching from the highest tenor heights, dropping into a bottomless bass and carrying across the theater. It was quite difficult not to dance.

““ Jennifer Bastien

E-mail Bastien at [email protected]

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