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]
“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
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
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.
Like a good book that makes us wiser and more humane.