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Terezín – Theresienstadt: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo soprano), Bengt Forsberg (piano), Daniel Hope (violin) and Bebe Risenfors (accordion, guitar and bass), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 30.9.2009 (BBr)

Ilse Weber: Ich wander durch Theresienstadt
Karel Švenk: Všechno jde! (Terezin March)
Ilse Weber: Und der Regen rinnt
Emmerich Kalman: Terezin Lied (after the Gräfin Maritza)
Robert Dauber: Serenade for violin and piano
Viktor Ullmann: Beryozkele (from Three Yuddish Songs, op.53)
Erwin Schulhoff: 2 movements from Violin Sonata No.2
Viktor Ullmann: Clere Vénus: Sonnet 9 – Immer inmitten
Erwin Schulhoff: 2 songs from Drei Stimmungsbilder
Pavel Haas: movement 2 from Suite for piano, op.13 – Five songs from Sedm Pisni V Lidovém Tónu, op.18
Karel Berman: 4 movements from Reminiscences
Erwin Schulhoff: 2 movements from Sonata for solo Violin
J S Bach: Siciliano from Sonata No.4 in C minor for violin and continuo
Carlo Sigmund Taube: Ein jüdisches Kind
Ilse Weber: Wiegala

This programme, presented in what was supposed to be a cabaret style, was, I assume, meant to give us some idea of the artistic life of Terezín, the garrison town, north of Prague, where the Nazis forced almost the whole of the Czechoslovakian arts, sciences and literary community to live. It was a wretched existence, hard labour, starvation, the fight for survival, but yet, there was a burgeoning artistic life. The camp had regular concerts given by its own orchestra – the conductor Karel Ančerl was an inmate – cabaret and theatre. Four major Czech composers were sent to Terezín – Hans Krása, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein and Viktor Ullmann – together with many others and the quality of the work these artists created, under the most appalling circumstances, is quite beyond belief.

But if this concert was supposed to give us a sampling of this artistic life, why was Erwin Schulhoff included? Schulhoff was a fine composer without doubt, but he never set foot in Terezín; he died in 1942, from tuberculosis, in the Wülzburg concentration camp, near Weißenburg, in Bavaria. Thus, with the inclusion of Schulhoff, we were robbed of any music by either Krása or Klein. An odd arrangement given the concert’s title.

Starting with some simple items, a parody song based on a tune from the operetta Gräfin Maritza, a delightful Romance for violin and piano and two delicious songs by Ilse Weber, the meat of the first half came with three songs by Ullmann and excerpts from two works by Schulhoff – the magnificent Violin Sonata No.2 was represented by 2 movements and it made one want to hear the rest of the piece, his songs were lighter fare.

The second half started with Pavel Haas – a movement from the fine Suite for piano, op.13, and five of the Seven Songs in Folk Style – and continued with a rather negligible piano suite by Karel Berman. If this latter had been omitted we could have had the complete works by Haas, which would have been most welcome. And here’s my problem with this show; it was just too many bits and pieces, there was never enough of any one piece for one to get a real focus on the various composers represented.

The performances were excellent, Otter making a brilliantly relaxed and authoritative contribution with excellent support from Forsberg, Hope and Risenfors. They ended with the only known composition by Carlo Sigmund Taube, the song Ein jüdisches Kind and finally Ilse Weber’s touching lullaby Wiegala. However, this wasn’t quite the celebration of music from Terezín that it might have been. The composers represented, and those left out, deserved a better platform than this.

Bob Briggs  

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