This disc is called the Terezín Music Anthology, Volume I. John Wiser explained about Terezín in one of the most impassioned pieces ever written in Fanfare; his notice begins at the bottom of page 567 of Volume 15, No. 2. If you have that reference, I urge you to stop now and reread it. For those who don't, here is a brief explanation. Terezín (Theresienstadt to its Austrian builders) is a walled fortress town in Czechoslovakia, about thirty-five miles north of Prague. During World War II, the Germans used it as a temporary holding cell for Jews being sent to the death camps in Poland. More than 33,000 people died at Terezín, as did some 84,000 more who were shipped to Auschwitz. Long a garrison for CzechRead more soldiers, Terezín looked more like a town than a concentration camp. When the prisoners set up a town Council of Elders and established an active musical culture, the Nazis used these apparent normalities to deflect growing rumors of their genocidal activity; temporarily lessening the overcrowding by shipping out the most diseased inhabitants, the Germans cleaned up the town's appearance enough to deceive a 1944 International Red Cross inspection team into believing conditions were humane. Terezin's flourishing cultural life contributed to the impression; there were “recitals, orchestral and choral concerts, as well as operas.“
The best-known survivor of the camp was Karel An?erl. There were a dozen composers active in Terezín; they share a ghastly equation of dates: Pavel Haas (1899-1944), Gideon Klein (1919— 1945), and Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) are three whose music has been presented recently. Ullmann studied with Schoenberg in Vienna and became Zemlinsky's valued assistant in Prague, where he prepared Zemlinsky's performance of Gurrelieder. These four works were written at Terezín, as were Ullmann's third opera The Emperor of Atlantis and several more pieces. The 1943 string quartet is an intense work in the Schoenberg manner, but—like Zemlinsky in his quartets— Ullmann balances precariously at the edge of tonality, unable to follow his teacher into the unknown. The unsettled nature of the music may express the desperation of the circumstances of its composition; Wiser reviewed another performance, finding bleakness and violence suggesting late Shostakovich. The notes say the “quartet is cast in a single movement, played without interruption“; but there are four distinct movements, and these players come to a complete stop after each one. They are marked Allegro moderato, Presto (Scherzo and Trio), Largo, and Rondo-Finale with Coda (Allegro vivace et ritmico). A novel feature is a recapitulation of the first-movement exposition, placed after the Presto. This is a strong, fulfilling work, in spite of its brevity—less than fifteen minutes.
The piano sonatas are less easily placed. Their forms are classical, with variations and fugue added to sonata-allegro and scherzo-and-trio; style and content vary widely. No. 5 opens with a simple Beethoven theme in C Major which quickly becomes diffracted by collapsing tonality and diffused in a world-weary atmosphere. There are hints of Mahler here, Debussy there; a fugue sounds as much Shostakovich as Reger. These external associations suggest that I have not yet come fully to terms with Ullmann's piano music. That the Sixth Sonata sounds more graceful than the others may be due as much to Edith Kraus's playing as to the music itself. The sonatas certainly resonate with much of the music of Ullmann's lifetime; even a hint of Gershwin surfaces at one point. The Seventh Sonata, from 1944, is the largest work here, in substance as well as duration. Mahler and the Second Viennese School are present in equal degree, and the sonata cries out for orchestration. Its fourth movement, a ghostly scherzo, contains an unmistakable reference (at 1:05 to 1:10, and again in the final bars) to Schoenberg's op. 9 Kammersymphonie. The amazing finale begins as a set of eight variations on a Yiddish folk song; it closes with a mighty fugue into which Ullmann crams Slovafcian and Hussite hymns, a Lutheran chorale, and the tones which spell B-A-C-H in German notation.
Pianist Robert Kolben escaped Czechoslovakia in 1939 but lost much of his family at Terezín; he premiered the Seventh Sonata in 1985. Edith Kraus premiered the Sixth in 1943, at Ullmann's request, and played it many times at Terezín. Their renditions bespeak authority and understanding; Kolben's playing of the final fugue is a triumph. The quartet is played with equal devotion and style. Other labels are also pursuing music from Terezín, but Koch International says this is to be the first of nine discs ' 'intended as a comprehensive collection of music composed in the Terezín concentration camp.“ This is an imposing beginning.
Sonata for Piano no 5, Op. 45by Viktor Ullmann Performer:
Robert Kolben (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1943; Terezín Date of Recording: 09/01/1990 Venue: Jerusalem Music Center Length: 16 Minutes 29 Secs.
Sonata for Piano no 6, Op. 49by Viktor Ullmann Performer:
Edith Kraus (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1943; Terezín Date of Recording: 1987 Venue: Jerusalem Music Center Length: 12 Minutes 37 Secs.
Sonata for Piano no 7by Viktor Ullmann Performer:
Robert Kolben (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1944; Terezín Date of Recording: 1987 Venue: Jerusalem Music Center Length: 22 Minutes 51 Secs.
Quartet for Strings no 3, Op. 46by Viktor Ullmann Performer:
Marcel Bergman (Cello),
Miriam Hartman (Viola),
Eliakum Salzman (Violin),
Ora Shiran (Violin)
Group for New Music members
Period: 20th Century Written: 1943; Terezín, Czech Repub Date of Recording: 1987 Venue: Jerusalem Music Center Length: 14 Minutes 15 Secs.
YOU MUST BE A SUBSCRIBER TO LISTEN TO ARKIVMUSIC STREAMING.
TRY IT NOW FOR FREE!
Sign up now for two weeks of free access to the world's best classical music collection. Keep listening for only $19.95/month - thousands of classical albums for the price of one! Learn more about ArkivMusic Streaming