Eric ZEISL (1905-1959)
Menuchim’s Song (1939) [3:27]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Violin Sonata (1942-43) [19:15]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Abodah (1928) [6:31]
Violin Sonata “Brandeis” (1949-50) [27:43]
Robert DAUBER (1922-1945)
Serenata (1942) [3:25]
Zina Schiff (violin), Cameron Grant (piano)
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, October 2012
MSR CLASSICS MS1493 [60:23]

This disc presents the music of four Jewish composers. All were deeply affected by the events of the Second World War, with the German, Robert Dauber, paying the ultimate sacrifice of his life at Dachau. It is a disc that whilst it is melancholic at times, also celebrates Jewish dance rhythms, with the result being one of real enjoyment.

The music of Eric Zeisl has not been celebrated that much by the record companies as some of his fellow composers who suffered under the Nazi Party, which is a real shame. The two works presented here, along with those on the other Zeisl discs I own — an excellent chamber music recital by the Brandeis-Bardin Ensemble on Harmonia Mundi (HMU907044), a fine Cello Sonata from Duo Hebraique on ASV (QS 6225), an admirable Lieder collection by Holzmair and Garben on CPO (777 170-2) and the deeply moving Réquiem Ebraico which was released as part of Decca’s Entartete Musik series (460 211-2) — all point to a composer of some worth. True his music is deeply rooted in the great Austro-German Late-Romantic tradition bypassing many of the modern trends that were prevalent at the time, but this is hardly a reason to neglect his music.

The disc opens with his short piece, Menuchim’s Song, which was arranged from his unfinished opera Job, but it is the “Brandeis” Sonata that is for me the highlight here. It is the longest work lasting nearly 28 minutes, and also the most emotional. The Sonata "alternates between angst and heartbreak, spiritual yearning and riotous joy”. If the disc opens with the composer in a lighter vein, here he certainly wears his heart on his sleeve. This is a powerful and thought-provoking work, in which the Jewish character comes to the fore brilliantly. Both Zeisl works receive their premiere recordings here, and it’s about time.

The other main work is Copland’s Violin Sonata which was completed in 1943, and which was dedicated to the memory of his friend, Harry H. Dunham, who was shot down over the Pacific in the year the Sonata was finished. The Sonata has received some fine recordings in the past, not least those by Isaac Stern and Gil Shaham. This new recording however, more than stands its ground with its illustrious counterparts. Like the majority of Copland’s music, it suffers from the popularity of his ballets, Third Symphony and Fanfare. It has not received the recognition that it deserves but is a work of great power and emotion, and one which should have a wider audience.

Of the other two short works, Ernest Bloch’s Abodah is the best known, Yehudi Menuhin even included it as an encore, although he did play the piece at a fair lick, which for me detracted from its meditative feel. This inward aspect is to the fore in the performance by Zina Schiff.

Robert Dauber’s Serenata, the composer’s only extant work, is the final item. It was composed in 1942 when he was imprisoned at the Terezin or Theresienstadt. Although it could be described as salon music, it is much more than that, with the violin part being quite demanding. It is however quite charming which does little to indicate the situation in which the composer found himself at the time of its composition. From Terezin Dauber was sent to Dachau where he died of typhoid aged just 22.

This is a well conceived and executed disc. The performances by Schiff and Cameron Grant are first rate and they are captured in quite a natural and well balanced acoustic. The notes could have been a bit more informative. They are very brief when it comes to the music itself. Overall, though, this is a disc well worth exploring, not least for the Zeisl Sonata, which truly deserves to be better known, and for which we should be thankful to MSR Classics as well as Schiff and Grant for bringing it to our attention.

Stuart Sillitoe
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