Music from the Holocaust

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Paul Orgel Plays Music from the Holocaust

With the exception of the Haas, all of the works recorded here were composed and had their première performances in 1943/44 in Terezin, (Theresienstadt in German), the model concentration camp for Jews that the Nazis set up in an 18th century military garrison in Czechoslovakia near its border with Germany, where artists, musicians, composers, and writers were encouraged to create and perform.

The Red Cross was allowed to visit and a propaganda film, The Fürher gives the Jews a City, was made there (though never actually distributed) in 1944 in which Haas appears.  Haas is not known to have composed any piano music in Terezin.  The earlier (1935) work fits well in this collection, however, because of the presence of the Berman.

This latter is composed of 8 movements, 3 of which were written during his internment, under the title “Terezin” as a sort of memoir piece, and 5 in 1957, 2 of these evoking the late 30s period, thus transforming the work into a sort of musical autobiography.  It is the only true program piece in the group.  Berman was the only one of the four to survive; Haas and Ullmann perished in Auschwitz and Klein disappeared without a trace in the labor camp of Fürstengrube just prior to the liberation.

This is not a première recording for any of these works, but it is an interesting parallel grouping of 2 suites and 2 sonatas because of the numerous similarities amongst them.  They all show traces of the composers’ training under the leading masters of the previous generation, Haas with Janáček and Ullmann with Schoenberg and Zemlinsky, for example, without their being slavish followers of them.  They incorporate traditional Czech folk or Jewish melodies and some include allusions to other classical music masterpieces.  They also demonstrate creative, but not imitative use of other influences, such as jazz, that were popular in the musical life of the ebullient period between the wars in Prague and Vienna.  They all reflect the circumstances their authors were enduring, yet they are also amazingly upbeat, testaments not only to the resilience of the human spirit but also to the power of the impulse to create and the survival of the fertile imagination even in inhumane circumstances.

The booklet notes, a joint effort by the pianist and Philip Silver, with the former responsible for the final form are impressive for both the thoroughness of the research and the precision and concision of the writing.  Biographical details are given for each composer and the specifics for the genesis of each work as well as the story of the camp itself, all in 6 very readable pages.  A bio of the pianist fills its back cover.  The track listing is found solely on the outside of the tray card, thus wasting no space with repetition.  Total playing time is regrettably not provided, however.

Orgel is a strong proponent for performing the music of the composers of this “lost generation” and keeping it alive.  His performance is a fine one: clear, precise, sensitive, and persuasive.  This is not merely a set of trivial occasional pieces from a sad episode in the history of mankind: the seriousness of their musical composition and the carefulness of their developmental structure make them transcend the locale and circumstances of their origin.  This CD is thus not only an historical document, but the performance convinces that the music is worth hearing in its own right, deserving more frequent programming in the concert hall.

Marvin J. Ward

Price: $9.99 (buy CD, listen to a samples)
Genres: Classical, Music
Released: Sep 01, 2005
℗ 2005 Phoenix USA

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