Thursday, 13 August 2009

More Terezin Theresienstadt music - Von Otter

For obvious reasons, music from Terezin (Theresienstadt) wasn't heard outside the camp. In the immediate post-war years, people were still too traumatized to deal with the music. Now, though, the music is enjoying a renaissance, as lost materials are collated, transcribed and performed more regularly, including by big-name professional musicians.

Recently I praised Wolfgang Holzmair's CD on Bridge Records (see HERE) and was asked about other recordings. So here's a bit about another recent issue. It's Terezin/Theresienstadt with Anne Sofie von Otter, Daniel Hope and Christian Gerhaher, issued by Deutsche Grammophon. Huge label with plenty of money behind and megastar performers so you'd assume it might be a "first choice"? But in musical terms, Holzmair on Bridge is infinitely the better buy.

Anne Sofie von Otter came relatively late to Terezin music though she's an excellent singer and champion of unusual repertoire. She'll be doing a concert of Terezin songs at the South Bank on 30 September, so it's worth finding out about her 2007 recording. pictured here.

The advantage of the DG CD is that it includes material not available elsewhere, such as the songs of Ilse Weber, who was a mother who became a camp nurse and sang to the children. Her poem Ich wandledurch Theresienstadt is good as a poem, particularly recited with the force Holzmair gives it on the Bridge recording. Von Otter sings it as a song, together with four others. Weber was heroic: she sacrificed her life to accompany the children when they were shipped to Auschwitz. Her husband survived. But as music the songs are charming rather than impressive. Which is utterly appropriate. She wrote them to keep the children happy. They were never meant to be great art. So they're worth listening to as a record of human goodness.

Similarly, there are songs here from Karel Švenk, Adolf Strauss, Carlo Sigmund Taube, Martin Roman and one poignantly "anonymous". Its remarkable that anything survives at all, so each fragment means a lot. But most of these are minor work as music, preserved as a testimony to history.

Terezin did hold top-rank composers, so the DG set includes Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása and Erwin Schulhoff. Both sets have Pavel Haas's Four Songs on Chinese Poetry. so it's a question of whether you like Gerhaer or Holzmair. Both singers have a similar light, soft grained timbre, Holzmair having the edge with a shading of melancholy. The Ullman songs on the DG are from his op 34, rather than the striking op 37 (with Der Schweiz) that Holzmair does with such vigour. On the other hand, the DG set goes beyond piano and voice, and includes Daniel Hope , playing Schulhoff's Sonata for Solo Violin. In many ways, this is the main draw of the recording. Hope will be playing at von Otter's QEH concert. Devotees of this genre will of course have the ancient multi CD set of Ullmann songs with Christine Schafer and Axel Bauni. Schafer's excellent, Holzmair again has the edge on the songs he shares with Bauni.

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