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American Classics - Schoenfield: Camp Songs, Ghetto Songs / Music Of Remembrance

Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559641   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Paul SchoenfieldGerard Schwarz
Performer:  Angela NiederlohPaul SchoenfieldErich ParceMorgan Smith,   ... 
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Music of Remembrance
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHOENFIELD Camp Songs. 1 Ghetto Songs. 2 G. SCHWARZ Rudolf and Jeanette 3 Gerard Schwarz, cond; 1,2,3 Angela Niederloh (mez); 1,2 Erich Parce (bar); 1 Morgan Smith (bar); 2 Paul Schoenfield Read more (pn); 1,2 Mina Miller (pn, dir); 3 Music of Remembrance 1,2,3 NAXOS 8559641 (65:05 Text and Translation)

Had the works on this disc been written a few years earlier, they might well have been included in Naxos’s 50-CD Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. But two of the entries here—Gerard Schwarz’s Rudolf and Jeanette and Paul Schoenfield’s Ghetto Songs —are of quite recent vintage: 2007 and 2008, respectively.

It was in Fanfare 28:3 that I reviewed a volume in the aforementioned Milken Archive that contained Schoenfield’s Viola Concerto, a work I deemed to be a major new concerted work for viola and orchestra that is sure to be snapped up by every viola player of note. So far, at least, the Naxos remains the only recording of it, but Schoenfield is well represented in the listings by two dozen or more other albums. His Camp Songs is the earliest written piece on this new CD, dating back to 2001. The five numbers that comprise the set—“Black Boehm,” “The Corpse Carrier’s Tango,” “Heil, Sachsenhausen!,” “Mister C,” and “Adolf’s Farewell to the World”—are settings of poems by Aleksander Kulisiewicz (1918–1982) written during his interment in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin.

Kulisiewicz, a Pole, was not Jewish, but he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis for his antifascist writings. While in the camp, he wrote many poems and composed more than 50 songs of his own. In the years following his liberation, he began amassing a large volume of music, poetry, and artwork created by camp prisoners. His archive—the largest extant collection of music composed in the camps—is now a part of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives in Washington, D.C.

Kulisiewicz’s poems are filled with the blackest of black humor and fetid with references to splattered blood, guts, and excrement. These were not meant to be poems of heartbreak and suffering, but rather of protest and defiance through biting sarcasm and bitter irony. Schoenfield’s musical settings are appropriately astringent, having about them a Kurt Weill-like character somewhat similar to the songs that were part of the German cabaret culture. They are sung in English translations of the original Polish provided by Katarzsyna Jerzak. Mezzo Angela Niederloh and baritone Erich Parce alternate in the first four numbers and join in duet in the final song. Music of Remembrance is a sizeable ensemble of string, wind, brass, and percussion players, too numerous to mention by name, that provides the instrumental component in various combinations.

Schoenfield’s six Ghetto Songs are settings of poems by another Polish poet and songwriter, Mordechai Gebirtig (1877–1942). Unlike Kulisiewicz, Gebirtig was Jewish, and unlike Kulisiewicz, Gebirtig “mercifully escaped” being rounded up and deported to a concentration camp. Instead, he was shot and killed outright during the infamous Krakow Ghetto uprising on June 4, 1942. His most famous song, Undzer shtetl brent, written in 1938, became a battle cry for Krakow’s Jewish youth against the Nazis. Gebirtig’s poems, sung here in their English translations by Bret Wirb, are quite different from Kulisiewicz’s verses. These poems—“Shifrele’s Portrait,” “Moments of Despair,” “Tolling Bells,” “Our Springtime,” “A Ray of Sunshine,” and “Moments of Confidence”—reflect a range of emotions, from sadness and sorrow to nostalgic recollections of happier times. Schoenfield adopts a more modernistic language, more melodically angular, more harmonically dissonant, and more rhythmically irregular and complex. Occasionally, as in “Moments of Confidence,” elements of klezmer music are clearly in evidence, while in the song “Tolling of the Bells” a nod toward Schoenberg and a kind of free atonality prevail. Niederloh is once again the mezzo, but in these numbers she is joined by baritone Morgan Smith.

Despite its title, which sounds like it could be an opera, Gerard Schwarz’s Rudolf and Jeanette isn’t even a vocal piece; it’s purely instrumental. Rudolf and Jeanette were the parents of Schwarz’s mother who, according to the composer’s note, “were shot at the edge of an open grave at the concentration camp in Riga, Latvia.” This poignant “in memoriam” is best described as a tone poem or an extended dirge. Its opening minutes distantly echo something out of Richard Strauss (his Metamorphosen , perhaps), or possibly something from Mahler or Schoenberg and Webern in their early pre-atonal phases. The impression is reinforced when the music morphs into a march-like mode tinged with a mixture of irony, dread, tragedy, and horror. Schwarz need make no excuses for writing a very lush, Romantic-sounding, unapologetically tonal piece. It serves its purpose well, and it’s very moving.

Music of Remembrance is a Seattle based group composed of members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Its artistic director is Mina Miller. All of the works on this disc were commissioned by the ensemble.

This is not a program of music meant for clapping your hands and being joyful. Its subject matter is grim. But its purpose is to ensure that we never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Camp Songs by Paul Schoenfield
Performer:  Angela Niederloh (Mezzo Soprano), Paul Schoenfield (Piano), Erich Parce (Baritone)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Music of Remembrance
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Ghetto Songs by Paul Schoenfield
Performer:  Angela Niederloh (Mezzo Soprano), Paul Schoenfield (Piano), Morgan Smith (Baritone)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Music of Remembrance
Period: 20th Century 
Rudolf and Jeanette by Gerard Schwarz
Performer:  Mina Miller (Piano)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Music of Remembrance

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