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Silenced Voices
Dick KATTENBURG (1919-1944)
Trio ŕ cordes [4.50]
Sándor KUTI (1908-1945)
Serenade for String Trio (1934) [10.17]
Hans KRÁSA (1899-1944)
Passacaglia and Fugue for String trio [8.50]
Tánec for String Trio [5.09]
Gideon KLEIN (191-1945)
String Trio (1944?) [13.21]
Paul HERMANN (1902-1944)
Strijktrio [7.48]
Géza FRID (1904-1989)
Trio ŕ cordes Op. 1 [16.04]
Black Oak Ensemble
Recording dates not provided
CEDILLE CDR90000189 [67.00]

As I write, early September 2019, the Trio Black Oak are touring Europe with a programme similar to the one recorded here, culminating at the ‘Everlasting Hope International Festival’ in Terezin. This demonstrates how, in the last twenty-five years, the music of the many composers silenced by being first interred in centres like Theresienstadt and then murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz has emerged after years of silence. Some of these composers were unknown to most of us until the 1980’s; now we are able to hear their works often and in a variety of interpretations but still, as here, new names are emerging to challenge our knowledge. For example, I hadn’t heard of Dick Kattenburg (born 11 November 1919) or Géza Frid (1904-1989) who survived the horrors.

Like Kattenburg, the centenary of Gideon Klein (born 6 December 1919) falls soon but his Trio has been recorded by a number of others, but let’s start with the remarkable Hans Krása, represented here by two works on this disc of string trios. I’ve often been amazed at how life enhancing, even cheerful the music of these composers can be, but this Passacaglia and Fugue by Krása opens up another door. The Passacaglia is a serious and sombre work, which, as Robert Elias writes in his fascinating booklet notes, has various “ominous sounding train motifs”. The ensuing fugue though is exciting and leaves you with real ‘uplift’.

Tánec, a dance, was also recorded by the Kochian Quartet on Praga digitals (PRD250 106) a version, which, I feel, brings out much more of the character of the music than Black Oak achieve. Again, Elias alludes to the rhythm of a train ride being prevalent; perhaps that’s why the CD cardboard cover has a picture of rail track on its front. However, I don’t agree with him that it is a ‘romp’. It seems full of desperation to me: beginning with a bright Czech dance it calms and then builds into a sort of Janáčekian panic.

The only other work by Sándor Kuti I have ever met is his Sonata for Violin Solo, whose manuscript was sneaked out to his wife just weeks before his death. Sir George Solti, who knew him when they were students in Budapest, said he was “exceptionally gifted” and, “I am convinced that…. he would have become one of Hungary’s greatest composers”. This Serenade is a three-movement piece with a rather academic opening Allegro giocoso followed by motoric Scherzando and then an “unresolved lament” almost prophesying the ghostly phantoms that were to haunt the survivors of the holocaust. There are moments on this disc when the Black Oak Ensemble doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere and mood of some of these pieces but in this work they are completely convincing.

Paul Hermann was also a product of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. He was a virtuoso cellist and there is a well-produced photo of him in the booklet. Robert Elias describes his String Trio as ‘a gem’ and I agree; I enjoyed the work as much as anything on the disc, if not more. It begins in an amiable compound time and continues in a sort of rondo-variation form, developing its ideas into quite a passion at times. Bartók doesn’t seem too far away. A fine work and superbly played.

So, to Dick Kattenburg and his Trio ŕ cordes. This was composed when he was just nineteen and shows a strong and confident handling of the medium. He was a string player and most of his surviving work is chamber music involving strings. This trio has a slow introduction and then bursts into impulsive, contrapuntal life, though it does end thoughtfully – a nice touch.

Gideon Klein’s String Trio falls into three movements. I hear touches of Janáček in the first and traces of Bartók in the third but the wonderful middle movement, which is seven and a half minutes long and very emotional and heartfelt, seems to be based on a Moravian folk song - the sort of melody Janáček used in some of his songs and in other works. My favourite version of this trio has been by the Hawthorn Quartet on Channel classics (CCS 1691), largely because of the intensity of their Adagio middle movement –but this version comes very close.

If you think that much of this CD demonstrates the influence of eastern European folk song, you won’t be surprised to discover that the third movement of Géza Frid’s Trio a cordes, amazingly his highly professional Opus 1, is marked ‘Allegro giocoso all’ungherese’. He came from the region of Hungary bordering on Rumanian, an area in which Bartók especially collected folk melodies on his primitive phonograph. Frid avoided detection from the Nazis by hiding in Holland; he later going on to compose several concerti, string quartets and choral works. This is a fine trio in three equal length movements with lively dance-like sections encasing a mysterious Andante cantabile. This, like the whole disc, is superbly recorded and the performance here totally and convincingly catches the work’s mood and language.

Although each of these pieces is for string trio, I would add that if you are unfamiliar with this period of music (despite the disc’s seeming lack of variety) and of these and other ‘silenced’ composers, then this CD would be a good place to start. After that, look out elsewhere perhaps for Victor Ullmann and Erwin Schulhoff, two especially fine composers who also died as a result of Nazi oppression.

Gary Higginson

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