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
– 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
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.
see also review
by Robert Hugill