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Music From The Holocaust / Paul Orgel

Release Date: 11/01/2005 
Label:  Phoenix Usa   Catalog #: 161   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Karel BermanPavel HaasGideon KleinViktor Ullmann
Performer:  Paul Orgel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

These four Czech composers spent most of Word War II in the Terezin concentration camp; only Karel Berman (1919–1995) survived. This is a fascinating program, and not only for reasons of history. Berman, the great Czech bass, composed only two works during his long life, a song cycle written and sung at Terezin and this Suite for Piano, which was pieced together at times from 1943 to 1957. Its autobiographical movement titles form a history in themselves: the first two, “Youth” and “Family-Home,” are charming, showing Berman to be a skilled and expressive composer. “Occupation” begins with a worried, questioning air, followed by a strutting march alternating with bleak acceptance. “Factory-Germany” is busy and cold. Read more “Auschwitz-Corpse Factory” (originally called “Terror”) is unremittingly bleak. “Typhus in the Kauffering Concentration Camp” seems to lose all coherence, approaching madness. “Alone” is calm and still. “New Life” offers a hint of hope, but nothing as simple as happiness. The exact autobiographical details are not obvious in the music, of course, but when each title is known, the messages become clear.

Pavel Haas’s five-movement Suite is the one piece on this disc written before the war, in 1935. Haas (1899–1944) was Janá?ek’s most successful protégé; his death and those of others in the Holocaust put an end to a major school of composition. This music is filled with quirky rhythms and painted in colorful tonal harmonies, suggesting a cross between Janá?ek and jazz.

Gideon Klein (1919–1945) was the boy genius of Czech music; even before the war, musicians recognized him as their leader. A young man of great intellect and broad culture, he was the leading figure in the musical life of Terezin, encouraging all to contribute what they could, including getting other composers to continue writing music despite the conditions of their daily lives. This 1943 work is one of the great piano sonatas of the 20th century, on a level with those of Berg, Griffes, Barber, and Prokofiev. Its three movements immediately strike one as being both classical and modern, and totally original.

Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944) spent a year studying with Schoenberg and worked for seven years as Zemlinsky’s assistant at the New German Theater in Prague. He had been something of a dilettante composer, pursuing other professions in the 1930s. For whatever reasons, confinement at Terezin stimulated him to compose, and he wrote most of his best music there, including the opera The Emperor of Atlantis. The Seventh Sonata was his final work, completed just weeks before his death. Its five movements are based on classical forms but are clearly autobiographical and include quotations from his own works as well as those of composers from Wagner to Schoenberg. The finale is a large Variations and Fugue on a Hebrew folk tune.

All of this music has been recorded before. Virginia Eskin offers an imaginative, romaticized performance of Klein’s Sonata on Channel Classics CCS 1691, and the great Czech pianist Radoslav Kvapil gives emotion-packed readings of Ullmann’s final three sonatas—all written at Terezin—on a Praga disc, PRD 250 180. The Ullmann Seventh Sonata has also been orchestrated and performed as his Second Symphony by James Conlon on a Capriccio CD and DVD. Paul Orgel’s clean playing and alert, bracing performances serve all of this music well; and his Steinway D has been exceptionally well recorded by Phoenix.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Suite for Piano 1939-1945 by Karel Berman
Performer:  Paul Orgel (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Czech Republic 
Suite for Piano, Op. 13 by Pavel Haas
Performer:  Paul Orgel (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Brno, Czech Republic 
Sonata for Piano by Gideon Klein
Performer:  Paul Orgel (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; Bohemia 
Sonata for Piano no 7 by Viktor Ullmann
Performer:  Paul Orgel (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; Terezín 

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