On February 24, 2010, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of attending a polished performance by Max Raabe and The Palast Orchester at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Raabe (who studied as a singer of opera) and his musicians began performing together as students in 1987, at the Berlin University of the Arts, in Berlin, Germany, and were making their first appearance in Portland.
Max Raabe and The Palast Orchester are tasteful purveyors of graceful music, playing smooth renderings of songs from the 1920s and 1930s. Mr. Raabe, a formal figure who served as both a crooner and a master of ceremonies, wore a swallow-tailed coat and stood stiffly erect, announcing the songs with a straight face and a touch of dry wit. The twelve musicians behind him, whose expert abilities gave a feeling of musical perfection to each tune, also added moments of humor to the evening. Their liveliness during "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" was particularly diverting.
The songs, some crooned in German and others in English, were performed with an authentic sound of vintage sophistication, making it seem as if the audience had been transported back to the period between World War I and World War II. Many of the songs, such as "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and "Dream a Little Dream of Me," were quite familiar, but hearing them rendered in an older style put them into a musical perspective that enhanced their charm.
Max Raabe and the talented musicians of The Palast Orchester have chosen to use their considerable skills to preserve an element of musical history that still has a great appeal to many people, as was evidenced by the strong response of the audience in Portland. In 2010, when true quality in entertainment has become a rare thing, such offerings are more valuable than ever.