This recital disc, anchored by the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. It brings together seventy-some minutes of rarities, jewels of sound both gloomy and sentimental from the early 20th century. This is music by composers less known than they should be, although not all of them are major discoveries that call for further investigation. The songs are sung, with exquisite diction and concentrated tone, by von Otter and another favorite Lied singer, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher. Their respective collaborating pianists, Bengt Forsberg and Gerold Huber, are among the best, most refined practitioners in the field today.
Terezín | Theresienstadt, A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg, C. Gerhaher, G. Huber, D. Hope, B. Risenfors, I. Hausmann, P. Dukes, J. Knight
(released March 25, 2008)
Deutsche Grammophon 477 6546
The selections range from the bluesy cabaret (Karel Švenk and Martin Roman) to the sugary tones of Austro-Hungarian operetta (Adolf Strauss and an adaptation of Emmerich Kálmán), from the simplest strophic songs in line with Schubert (Ilse Weber) to more cutting-edge examples of avant-garde trends (worthy sets by Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása, and Pavel Haas). The result is a most convincing cross-section of emotions, embracing the optimistic, the despairing, and the brutally analytical. Brief appearances by accordion and guitar (Bebe Risenfors), clarinet (Ib Hausmann), viola (Philip Dukes), and cello (Josephine Knight) add affective touches of color to what is a fairly somber tapestry. Daniel Hope provides a stark conclusion with Erwin Schulhoff's spiky, moody sonata for solo violin.
A further level of emotional power is found in the historical background of this music, all composed by musicians imprisoned in the Terezín ghetto after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia (except for Schulhoff, who died at the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria). Most of them died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, which was the final destination of most of the prisoners at Terezín. The context may make this extremely difficult listening, as it continues to do for me, especially Ilse Weber's lullaby, which she reportedly sang last in the gas chamber as she was executed with the sick children she nursed at Theresienstadt. Even worse is Carlo Sigmund Taube's Ein jüdisches Kind, set to a poem by the composer's wife, Erika Taube, about their young son. All three were killed at Auschwitz in 1944. Without the unifying concept, this album is full of worthy musical discoveries; with it, it becomes a memorial of the depth of human suffering.