Mark Nadler

Thu 23 Aug 2007

Tschaikowsky (and other Russians)



A JOURNEY into passionate musicology essayed from a unique perspective, Mark Nadler's one-man cabaret show brims with energy and an infectious lust for knowledge about his subject. Taking as his starting point the Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin-composed song which gives the show its title, a number from the musical Lady in the Dark which simply names 50 different Russian composers in its lyrics, Nadler sets out to explain how he remembers the words when he performs it.

What this entails is a biographical breakdown of the more interesting points of each composer's life, accompanied by snippets of their work played by Nadler on his grand piano. What sounds like a dry and scholarly exercise is anything but, as our host rattles through these tales with a demented vigour and an impressive musical ability of his own.

Noting the personal foibles of some composers - Scriabin's synesthesia, for example, or the fact that Mussorgsky sounded particularly sober for such a famed drinker - and historical events such as Stalin's forbidding of dissonance in music (leading the more adventurous composers to flee Russia and work abroad), Nadler's show is excitably camp yet rich in amusing detail. After all, as he notes, those artists who survive the generations are either singularly talented, or great for gossip.