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Hans KRÁSA (1899-1944)
Brundibar (1943) * [31:24] (Act One [18:06]; Serenade [1:10]; Act Two [12:08])
Overture for Small Orchestra (1943-1944) [5:29]**
Lori LAITMAN (b.1955)
I Never Saw Another Butterfly (1995-96) [16:46] ***; The Butterfly [5:17]; Yes, That’s the Way Things Were [1:52]; Birdsong [3:22]; The Garden [2:26]; Man Proposes, God Disposes [0:46]; 23. The Old House [3:03]
Music of Remembrance/Gerard Schwarz */**,
Northwest Boychoir/Josef Crnko *,
Craig Sheppard (piano) **,
Maureen McKay (soprano); Laura DeLuca (clarinet) ***
rec. Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, USA, 15 May 2006 (Brundibar); St. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, USA, 8 May 2006 (overture); Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, USA, 7 May 2006 (Laitman)
Recording made possible by the generous support of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.
NAXOS 8.570119 [53:39]

 


Brundibar is a haunting and wonderfully inspiring tale of the triumph of good over evil. The villain Brundibar (Bumblebee) who is consumed by hate and greed is overcome with the aid of animals by the combined forces of children united in common cause. Its main message is that tyranny must and can be defeated when the majority stands up against it. However, there is a chilling end to the opera in which Brundibar reminds the audience that “…Bullies never give up completely. One departs, the next appears…” which is countered by the children who sing “Tyrants come along, but just you wait and see! They topple one-two-three!”

Brundibar was written by Hans Kràsa in response to a competition organised by the Czech Ministry of Education and Culture to produce a children’s opera. It is unclear as to whether Krása’s composition won or even if the competition was ever concluded, since shortly afterwards the Nazis invaded. Krása, being Jewish was proscribed, his work banned from being performed before a general audience. Indeed, before the first performance took place at a Jewish Boys’ Orphanage in Prague both Krása and the opera’s conductor were arrested. They were sent to Terezin, a transit camp from which the inmates were sent on to their deaths in Auschwitz, Birkenau and Treblinka. Nevertheless it was performed at the orphanage three times before the director of the orphanage, his son the conductor, the opera’s director and designer and Gideon Klein a young composer and the opera’s pianist were also rounded up along with the boys from the orphanage and sent to Terezin. There Kràsa brilliantly reworked the piano part utilising the wealth of orchestral talent who were also inmates of the camp and a new production was staged 55 times. Constant replenishment of the cast of children was required since most of them were dispatched to the death camps as soon as each performance was over.

Terezin was designed to try to prove the Nazis’ compassion and in a film “The Fuhrer gives the Jews a town” segments of the opera were shown. It was also used to help dupe the sole representative of the Red Cross, a young inexperienced man who was completely fooled by the camp’s commandant. The opera became a huge hit within the camp and its political allegory was not lost on the audience, particularly since Brundibar wore a moustache. The evil of Nazism was defeated and the Jewish people have survived and thrived but almost all those associated with the opera from the director, musicians and the cast of children perished in the death camps. One million children died in the holocaust, including all but 100 or so of the 15,000 children under 15 who passed through Terezin between 1942 and 1944. Hans Krása himself was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in October 1944, another huge loss to the world of music during that darkest of dark periods. Thankfully the opera has survived and is becoming better known. The adaptation presented on this disc by Tony Kushner, its premiere recording, uses a language that will be even more readily understood by today’s audiences. It expands Brundibar’s explanation as to how he became the bully he was and how people must learn to bend to his will. Though it is good to hear it in the original Czech this adaptation in English will gain it a whole new fan-base further bolstering the sense of triumph over evil.

The opera in this recording is a great success with committed performances from soloists, choir, orchestra and conductor. The Music of Remembrance orchestra was founded specifically to perform and record music composed during those terrible years and music written since in commemoration of those times.

The Overture for Small Orchestra, also by Krása, only serves to increase the sense of loss to music caused by his death. While it would have been nice to have heard some more of his music, the last six tracks of the disc are settings by Lori Laitman of six poems written by children imprisoned in Terezin. These are beautifully sung and accompanied serving as a fitting conclusion to this disc of Terezin-related music.

Anyone who wishes to explore Krása’s legacy or to interest their children in music and teach them a valuable lesson at the same time can do no better than start here.

Steve Arloff

Jonathan Woolf
also reviewed this recording and came to a different conclusion

Reviews of other versions of Brundibár:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/May02/Krasa_Brundibar.htm
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/May04/brundibar.htm

 

 

 

 


 


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