max and orchestra

Max Rabbe and The Palast Orchestra

Birmingham Town Hall


If you are looking for a time machine to escape back to a period when sophisticated elegance and gentle courtship and romance was all the rage, then you could do no better than to have a word with Max Rabbe, the internationally renowned crooner, who seems to hold the keys.

Accompanied by his debonair and glamorous fellow time travellers the Palast Orchestra, there is more than a touch of the Downton Abbey about their repertoire, which includes the odd stop to reflect on moments of the earlier Fred Astaire like silver screen.

Audiences around the world have been enjoying Max since 1985, when training for opera he amused himself and decided with fellow students to recreate the nostalgic tones popular in Germany in the 1920s. After becoming something of an unexpected hit, he abandoned his training and later adding his own renditions of works by Irving Berlin and Cole porter, soon found there was a receptive audience waiting.

Dressed in their smart evening wear, this 12 piece orchestra create the kind of rich mellow sound that simply soothes away the troubles of the world. Max's voice is light and falsetto and the most animated he gets is leaning into the shadows when the lyric ends and the band takeover, resting casually on the grand piano

Max Rabbe and The Palast Orchestra earlier on the tour

The performance is far from dry though with Max adding his own Noel Coward style, often hilarious introductions to most of the renditions. With his clipped Germanic tone he quips either about relationships or the meaning of the songs. With a good few of the songs still being sung in German those introductions were welcome. The band also gloriously adds to the foppish fun, by posturing with their exaggerated facial expressions with a childlike exuberance during many of the upbeat songs.

They are obviously internationally successful, but for me the dedication to their original founding material is also something of an Achilles heel. As commendable as it is to their rendition of obscure German works of the 1920s, it does none the less seriously limit their wider appeal. It’s understandable that this core of work might have been what started it all, but it’s definitely the more popular numbers like Dancing Cheek to Cheek and Singing in the Rain, all still arranged in the 1930’s style, that lift the spirits and where visually the musicians seem to come alive.

More of this type of material I am sure would double the Orchestras audience. Indeed with the nation’s current obsession with ballroom perhaps the occasional departure into a more produced show would lift this concert into a spectacle and an occasion.

It’s unlikely this will happen, but it’s a shame as Max and the Palast Orchestra are quite something to behold and listening to them is quite an experience. It’s just a pity more people are not aware of him.

Jeff Grant


Index page Town Hall Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre