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Lori LAITMAN (b.1955)
Vedem (2010) [48:38]
Fathers (2002, rev. 2010) [12:40]
Angela Niederloh (mezzo), Ross Hauck (tenor)
The Northwest Boychoir/Joseph Crnko
The Music of Remembrance (Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Mikhail Shmidt (violin), Walter Gray (cello), Mina Miller (piano and artistic director))
rec. May 2010, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Washington, USA. DDD.
English texts included.
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559685 [61:18]

Experience Classicsonline


“Vedem” (Czech for “In the lead”) was the name of a clandestine magazine published by children in one of the barracks of the concentration camp Terezín (Theresienstadt) between the years 1942 and 1944. The Gestapo used this old Czech fortress as a ghetto. More than 150,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia and other countries were sent there. The majority of them were later deported to  Auschwitz  and other extermination camps. About 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the camp during these years. Only a few hundred were alive by the end of the war.
 
In “Vedem” the children published and illustrated their poems and stories. They wrote about their hopes for the future, about their fear and hate, their sorrows and sweet memories. This is the most touching document of these terrible times.  
The soul cannot believe that we will die
So we make beauty to delay our death.
We sing of life recalled in Terezín
And everything they came to take from us.  

The Music of Remembrance is a Seattle-based chamber ensemble dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust in music. They perform works of the musicians who died in the Holocaust, do educational programs and recordings, and also commission new works. The Music of Remembrance asked Lori Laitman, one of the leading contemporary American composers in the vocal field, to compose an oratorio based on the story of “Vedem”. Laitman collaborated with poet David Mason. He created a strong libretto, which incorporates six poems by Terezín boys, taken from the pages of “Vedem”. Based on these lyrics Laitman created a profound work, very touching, not only because of the story behind it, but also because of the quality and depth of music. The story itself could propel interest, but Laitman did not take shortcuts. She put her heart and inventive and perceptive talents into this haunting threnody.
 
The instrumentation is economical - clarinet, violin, cello and piano. These accompany the boy choir and two adult soloists. The soloists perform more demanding parts, while the choir’s music is easier to perform for children. One can witness Laitman’s composing prowess in the mastery with which she accompanies the vocal lines, changing the colour of instrumentation to fit the words, the feelings, the changes of the narrative. There are several strong motifs that recur through. “Hear our story now” first appears in the introduction. Then there’s the motif over which the names of the dead are read at the end or the desperate “Mommy come hold me”. One of the most memorable is the sad and simple waltz “Vedem”. It seems that the music wants to be more cheerful, but cannot. Laitman’s style is very American, and especially reminds me of the songs of Samuel Barber.
 
The libretto follows the lives of the children, from the happy days before the Germans came, through the arrival to the camp, their life there, the founding of “Vedem”, and finally to the moment when they are sent to the death camps. We hear the words of children, missing their mothers, trying to be brave, and of their adult leaders, working to keep the children’s minds away from the bitter reality. Humour is one of the things that help people to survive, and the boys could find humour in their situation - we see it in some of their writings. The finale is well built, musically and emotionally. There is a feeling of an engulfing wave, growing and growing until it breaks in the final climax.
 
The children’s choir sings excellently. The names of the child soloists should have been added to the booklet. The children tell their story simply and austerely. The voice of Angela Niederloh is strong and has noticeable vibrato, which makes her sound emotional and motherly, which is fitting. Ross Hauck’s tenor is youthful and firm. He is good both when he represents the 14-year old writers of “Vedem” while singing their poems, and when he personates the Rabbi, lamenting the gone. 
Fathers is a short song-cycle, here presented in the version for mezzo-soprano with piano, violin and cello. It is based on the poems of Anne Ranasinghe and David Vogel. Ranasinghe was born Anneliese Katz. She was a Jew and lost her parents in a death camp. Vogel was a Jewish poet writing in Hebrew. He was interned in France and died in Auschwitz. This cycle adopts a different perspective; that of the children who stayed alive but whose parents were killed. The character is different as well: reflective, detached, misty. White, gray and blue colors prevail. The pain is no longer sharp - it is refracted through time, through memory, through dreams; it is dimmed by the years, but from its residual magnitude we can imagine its original strength.
 
The entire cycle is like a chain of dreams and memories. We start with memories of the father; then proceed to dreams that emphasize his gaping absence; and finally, in Vogel’s poem, the speaker remembers seeing his father die. He is almost reunited with his father through sharing his fate and his feelings. The poem Don’t Cry advises the listener not to be emotional over a broken pot, but to bury the shards in the ground and to forget the place. Laitman took this song and “buried its shards” in several places over the cycle, as if trying to find a way to forget. This song has a memorable melody; it brings diversity and lightens the mood a little.
 
The rich, beautiful mezzo of Angela Niederloh is well chosen for this music. Her performance is not impassioned, but has some needed degree of understatement. The expressivity comes from the sincerity. Her diction is excellent; all the words are very clear. There is vibrato, but it is echoed by the vibrato and trills of the strings. The result only gains in beauty and fragility. The instruments are no less telling than the singer.
 
There are good books that we have read, where stories are difficult and tragic. We did not have fun reading them; our souls bleed but we became wiser and more humane. We still carry some of these books through our life, and when our gaze falls on their spines we are recharged a little from that initial power surge. Maybe too rarely, we take such a book from the shelf and reread it, discovering new sides and feeling new emotions. This disc is like one of those books.  

Oleg Ledeniov 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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