Terezín

terezinTerezín/Theresienstadt is a CD of music composed in the concentration camp at Terezín in what was then Czechoslovakia.  Virtually the entire Czech intelligentsia; certainly those of Jewish or Communist persuasion, were imprisoned in a kind of “show camp” to demonstrate to the world that the Nazis weren’t as bad as made out.  Nine of the ten composers featured on the disc ended up on a “Polentransport”; a one way ticket to Auschwitz.  No story is more poignant than that of Ilse Weber, a nurse in the hospital.  She chose to accompany the sick children of the camp on their final journey and reportedly sang to them in the gas chamber.

The record opens, fittingly enough, with Weber’s simple, strophic and very beautiful “Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt”.  After that, there are cabaret style songs by Karel Švenk, Adolf Strauss and Martin Roman as well more of Weber’s settings of her own poetry.  Carlo Taube and Viktor Ullmann look to their Jewish roots with “Ein jüdische Kind” and Three Yiddish Songs to texts by David Einhorn.  There’s more conventional art song too with Hans Krása’s settings of Rimbaud and Pavel Haas’ Four Songs on Chinese Poetry.  The disc finishes with Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata for Solo Violin.  This work was written some years before his arrest and he “escaped” Auschwitz.  He died at the Wülzburg camp in 1942.

This is all pretty hard to listen to even when performed as well as on this disc.  The songs are split between Anne Sofie von Otter, the driving force behind the project, with Bengt Forsberg on piano and Christian Gerhaher with Gerold Hüber accompanying.  They are joined by various other instrumentalists as needed.  There aren’t many (any?) better interpreters of art song than these two and they treat these works with due sensitivity.  Both sound as comfortable in Czech as in German.  Daniel Hope gives an equaly satisfactory account of the Schulhoff.

The tracks were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in Berlin and Munich in 2006-7.  It’s a crisp, clear recording with just enough resonance to avoid dryness.  There’s a good explanatory essay in the booklet as well as full texts and translations.

Lest we forget…

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