Notes and Editorial Reviews
MUSIC BY COMPOSERS IN THERESIENSTADT (1941-1945)
HYPERION 67973 (74: 03)
String Quartet No. 3
, Op. 46.
String Quartet No. 2
Op. 7, “from the Monkey Mountains”
This disc flies under false colors: Its cover loudly proclaims “BRUNDIBÁR,” making one expect Hans Krása’s complete opera, whereas what we get is a suite therefrom, arranged by David Matthews for string quartet, piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and percussion. Listening demolishes all complaints, as Matthews’s seven-movement, 18-minute suite is even more flavorful than the original score, and the Nash Ensemble’s piquant playing is sheer delight.
Viktor Ullmann’s brief Third Quartet (his first two are lost) is a solid, classical string quartet, its four conventional sections merged into a single movement. It is suffused with a melancholy that suggests Alban Berg rather than Schoenberg, who had mentored Ullmann’s studies in Vienna. All of the music on this disc is superbly played, but the string quartet of Stephanie Gonley, Laura Samuel (absent in the Klein Trio), Lawrence Power, and Paul Watkins deserves special praise.
Three of these composers were born in the 19th century, but Gideon Klein was only 22 when he was sent to Theresienstadt (Czech: Terezín). Like Arriaga (“the Spanish Mozart”), he composed elegant, satisfying music in his teens. Klein’s String Trio was completed in October 1944, just nine days before he was sent on to Auschwitz. It reeks of Bartók-like colors (its central
is Variations on a Moravian Folk Song), although its harmonies are more conservative than those of the Hungarian master. Klein had written other fine chamber music, but this trio is his masterpiece. There have been several excellent recordings, but the Nash Ensemble—aided by close, sparkling recorded sound—finds even more life in the score than does Ensemble Villa Musica, my previous favorite.
Pavel Haas’s “from the Monkey Mountains” is as programmatic as a string quartet can get; here are the movement titles, which are even more evocative in Czech:
Coach, Coachman, and Horse (Ko?ár, ko?í, a ku?):
The Moon and Me (M?síc a já):
Largo e misterioso
Wild Night (Divá noc):
Vivace e con fuoco
The music could be mistaken for Janá?ek (a fellow Moravian with whom Haas studied); it is more colorful if less concentrated than the teacher’s two quartets. Lasting a full half hour, Haas’s quartet touches all bases: humor, excitement, intensity, depth. The
notation for the second movement holds only for its introduction, leading to a wild ride—nor is the finale all
seems to probe the soul. The addition of subtle percussion in the finale is effective but may hinder this music’s well-deserved claim to a place in the standard repertoire, as string quartets do not travel with a fifth wheel. A miraculous, wonderful piece, it should be part of your standard rep. There have been a least half a dozen recordings, of which I have heard only two, but it’s hard to imagine a finer performance than we have here.
Along with Martin? and Schulhoff, these four composers were the cream of mid 20th-century Czech music, a “school” which had absorbed Janá?ek’s harmonic adventures and relaxed them just enough to please everyone. Audience connections to contemporary music might be entirely different had they survived and prospered. Life—and the possibility of death—at the Theresienstadt concentration camp may have sharpened minds and opened hearts, making their music deeper, more exciting, and more attractive than had been the case earlier. We are fortunate that it survived and has been revived; it cannot be played or recorded too often. This constantly riveting disc is a sure bet for Want List 2013.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Brundibár: Suite by Hans Krása
Notes: ARrangement: David Matthews
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