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Jake HEGGIE (b. 1961)
For a Look or a Touch (2007) [33:47]
Gerard SCHWARZ (b. 1947)
In Memoriam (2005) [9:06]
Lori LAITMAN (b. 1955)
The Seed of Dream (2004) {17:57]
 Morgan Smith (baritone); Erich Parce (baritone); Julian Patrick (actor); Julian Schwarz (cello); Music of Remembrance (Zart Domburian–Eby (flute); Laura DeLuca (clarinet); Leonid Keylin (violin); Jeannie Wells Yablonsky (violin); Mikhail Schmidt (violin); Susan Gulkis Assadi (viola); Mara Finckelstein (cello); Amos Yang (cello); Mina Miller (piano); Craig Sheppard (piano)) 
rec. 12 May 2007 (Heggie), 11 May 2006 (Schwarz) and 29 January 2007 (Laitman), Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Beanroya Hall, Seattle, WA, USA, DDD
 NAXOS 8.559379 [60:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Music of Remembrance remembers Holocaust musicians and their work through performance, recording and the commissioning of new works. Jake Heggie’s work is a commission which highlights the fact that homosexuals were also persecuted under the Nazi regime. A reading of the journal of Manfred Lewin, who was murdered at Auschwitz, which he wrote for his lover Gad Beck, who is still alive today, gave Heggie his plot for this miniature operatic scene. It’s a conversation between the dead man and his surviving lover. Morgan Smith takes the part of Manfred, who wants Gad to remember their relationship whilst Gad, Actor Julian Patrick, wishes to forget the past. It’s a dramatic piece, to be sure, but even though it packs a punch, because of its subject matter, it doesn’t have the same power in the music that it has in the words. Part of the problem with the performance is Smith’s singing for he has the habit of wobbling from time to time, spoiling the musical line. When he sings without an “unfettered” voice, as in the fourth section, you can hear that he’s a good singer. At 33 minutes it’s a bit too long for its material, and the dance section reminiscing about “topsy turvy Berlin” – topsy turvy? surely Berlin was mad, insane, decadent but never topsy turvy, after 1933 it was also a very dangerous place – sits uncomfortably within the scheme of things. The other problem I have with the piece is the use of an actor to speak one of the two parts. I understand that it’s a very good way to differentiate between the two characters but the ear tires of a speaking voice within a musical context. It’s a bold idea, to be sure, but for me it fails to deliver on the emotional level as it is supposed to do. The music is pleasing but lacks memorable themes and where is the pathos? I simply don’t care about these people; they don’t come alive (no pun intended) as real people. And, worst of all, I find a lot of it rather twee.
Gerard Schwarz’s In Memoriam – this is the Gerard Schwarz the UK knows as the one-time conductor of the Liverpool Orchestra, now in charge of the Seattle Symphony – is full of the very emotion missing from Heggie’s piece. It’s a sustained elegy for solo cello and string quartet and seems to keep quoting Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, which is no bad thing. This is a fine achievement.
Lori Laitman’s song cycle for baritone with cello and piano, The Seed of Dream, is given a good performance by Erich Parce, even if he does insist on wobbling from time to time. Setting words written by Abraham Sutzkever in the Vilna ghetto between 1941 and 1944 these four brief songs are direct and in a simple and straight forward idiom.
Overall, my problem with the vocal works is that I don’t feel any real personality to the music. It’s all well crafted but, ultimately, faceless. The lyricism isn’t memorable, and in the opera I don’t find any connection with the characters. The recordings of the Heggie and Schwarz are fine, very clear with a good perspective on all the performers – especially in the Schwarz – but the Laitman cycle has a very tubby sound. A good idea but, with the exception of the Schwarz, the music simply isn’t strong enough for the purpose it has to serve.
Bob Briggs

see also review by Robert Hugill

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