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Week-end to Terezin I. Music from a lost generation

Londres, 19/06/2010. Wigmore Hall. Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Russell Ryan (piano), Marianne Thorsen (violin), Thomas Gould (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello), Nash Ensemble. Domažlicky: Song without words for string quartet; Ilse Weber: Four songs; Adolf Strauss: Heimweh; Carl Taube: Ein Jüdisches Kind; Gideon Klein: String Trio; Zigmund Schul: Die Nischt - Gewesenen (What never was); Viktor Ullmann: 3 lieder Op.37; Hans Krasa: Passacaglia and Fugue for string trio; Karel Švenk: Vsechno jde! (Terezin March); Adolf Strauss: Ich weiss bestimmt, ich werd dich wiedersehn; Otto Skutecky: Drunt im Prater ist ein Plätzerl; Anonymus: Terezin-Lied.
imagen The story of what happened in the Terezín (Thereiesienstadt in German) concentration camp from 1941-5 is one of the most remarkable of the Second World War. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 left the Jewish population at the mercy of their Nazi occupiers. The Terezín camp was set up towards the end of 1941 and over a period of 4 years, 140.000 Jews passed through the camp. 20.000 survived, some died at Terezín, most were transported to the East and gassed at Auschwitz. Run by the Jews themselves, Terezín housed much of the Czech cultural elite. Musicians (including the celebrated conductor Karel Ančerl, who survived the war), artists, writers and designers were allowed by the Nazis to organise their own activities. The frequency and quality of cultural activities taking place there was astonishing. The Nazis, seeing the potential propaganda possibilities of Terezín, imposed little or no censorship on activities (even Mendelssohn was performed) and even invited the International Red Cross in (after a “beautification” programme) to show how humanely they were treating the inmates. A propaganda film of life in Terezin, made by the Nazis, which was never completed, was shown during the weekend events.

The first day’s concert was preceded by a showing of a 1993 documentary made by the BBC on Terezín, featuring performances of some of the music composed there and interviews with survivors. They and other survivors had come to London to attend the weekend events. A stimulating discussion on memories of Terezín and the cultural role they had all played in the camp followed the film.

Nearly all of the music performed at this concert was composed at Terezín; uncertainty surrounds the dates of the other pieces although it’s likely some of them were written there as well.

The first concert featured music from ten composers, a lost generation of gifted Czech artists. Most were in their prime; only one survived the war. The focus here was on shorter, lighter pieces, cabaret or salon songs whose aim was to put into words the hopes and fears of inmates who lived in fear and uncertainty of their future. In addition there were three, more serious chamber works.

Gidon Klein was 22 when arrived at Terezín and spent his next three years writing choral pieces, a piano sonata, a Fantasy and Fugue as well as the String Trio played here. It follows a classical three movement structure, the opening allegro and closing molto vivace bursting with vibrant folk melodies and rich textures. Hans Krása‘s Passacaglia and Fugue also reaches deep into folklore for its inspiration but here the mournful lament of the opening movement is more indicative of the work’s tragic inception. The short but furious 'Tanec' which followed is truly a dance of death; the pounding rhythms captured magnificently by the members of the Nash Ensemble who tore into all three works with commitment and finesse.

Strangely enough it was the lighter works which really captured the defiant spirit of Terezín. František Domažlicky’s Song without words is an engaging piece of salon music; it’s light, charming melodies conjuring up images of a lazy afternoon in Vienna. There’s no sense of the conditions under which it was composed and performed, but that’s what Domažlicky wanted to get across. Amid all the hardships and uncertainties he wanted to convey a feeling of optimism and of the need to live for the day. But it was the songs WITH words which really touched the heart. It’s the cheerful melodies contrasted with lyrics expressing a longing for home and the need to wish for a better day which give these songs their bittersweet nature. In Wolfgang Holzmair and Russell Ryan, they had two wonderful interpreters; Ryan’s sensitive accompaniment the perfect foil for Holzmair’s soaring, expressive baritone. The melodies in Illse Weber’s 'For all will be well' are upbeat and cheerful but the words convey a different feeling:

“Swallow your tears, bite back your pain, don’t listen to insults and abuse. In spite of everything, let your will be as hard as bronze to overcome distress”

Carlo Sigmund Taube’s A Jewish Child and Adolf Strauss’s Homesickness express the desire for a Jewish homeland:

“We need a land of our own to make an end of distress and pain, to create things with our own hands; and to be a people among peoples”. Holzmair sang these songs with great warmth and the deepest humanity, wearing a smile not of joy but of the sadness of a people who lived in fear of their future. Their captors knew they had very little time to live. The anonymous Terezín Lied which parodies a song from one of Emmerich Kalman’s popular operettas was almost unbearably moving. A rousing tune and defiant lyrics sums up the spirit of the camp and moved many in the audience to tears. A fitting memorial and testimony to the human spirit in the face of adversity: “Yes, in Terezín, we take life just as it comes, for to do otherwise, would be our misfortune”.


Este artículo fue publicado el 02/12/2010

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