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Hans KRÁSA (1899-1944)
1. Brundibár (1943) [31:24]
2. Overture for Small Orchestra (1943-44) [5:29]
Lori LAITMAN (b.1955)
3. I Never Saw Another Butterfly (1995-96)
Northwest Boychoir (1)
Music of Remembrance/Gerard Schwarz (1,2)
Craig Sheppard (piano) (2)
Maureen McKay (soprano); Laura DeLuca (clarinet) (3)
rec. St Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Seattle, May 2006 (2); Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Seattle, May 2006 (1,3)
NAXOS 8.570119 [53:39]

Slick. Very slick. And very wrong. This new translation of Brundibár is by Tony Kushner, the playwright who wrote Angels in America. Its demotic is all very well but the text is careless and unconvincing. The old English translation by Joza Karas and Milada Javora has stood the test of time perfectly well and I really don’t see the advantage of this less sensitive and brusquer burlesque affair. And then there’s the disastrous decision to cast adults. We needn’t delve into the work’s well-known history to appreciate the importance of the child actor-singers. All the best performances and recordings use them.
Frankly this new release is, to me, unlistenable. The air of adult vaudeville is utterly unsympathetic. The ghost of W.C. Fields hovers with gruesome stupidity over much of this – especially the Ice Cream Seller scene – and if you think that Mr. Cellophane haunts Scene Six, the one with the Organ Grinder, then I wouldn’t disagree. Quite what Vaudeville cum Chicago is doing here is anyone’s guess but I can’t be bothered to work it out.
I suppose if you want an example of Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning American genius you could do worse than this;
Brundibár; Adios! Vamoose! Egress!
Milkman: Didn’t want my milk, I guess.
Or maybe Brundibár’s Scene Eight lines;
When I was a tender puppy
Every bully beat me uppy,
Yes, hilarious. I laughed so much I fainted. It would have helped however had Kushner, the producers and everyone else concerned with this awful production managed to notice that one of the central character’s names is Aninka and not Aninku. Perhaps they were thinking of NankiPoo.
The Overture for Small Orchestra features Craig Sheppard. Heavily syncopated it is strongly in thrall to Weill.
Coupled with the farce of the Kushner Brundibár is, unfortunately for her, Lori Laitman’s cycle I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Written for soprano and clarinet (though elsewhere the saxophone has been used) - which imparts a klezmer-like spirit to the music - these are settings by children, some anonymous, some not. The fact that the children, so far as is known, all died in Auschwitz is reason enough for gravity. There are strong folk elements and moments of what Primo Levi would call reprieve. Nevertheless what one remembers most from the cycle are moments such as the repeated line rotting in silence from the final setting, The Old House. And also the undulating clarinet lines and of course the perception of the settings. I prefer this performance to that by Lauren Wagner (soprano) and Gary Louie (saxophone) on all-Laitman disc on Albany Troy 393.
Any Brundibár performance, whether in Czech, German or English, is preferable to this one. The German language version on EDA 015 includes a disc of spoken reminiscences entitled Brundibár und die Kinder von Theresienstadt in which we hear from survivors such as Anna Hanusová-Flachová, Alice Sommer and Eva Hermannová amongst others.
Jonathan Woolf



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