Viktor Ullmann made the most of his stay at the Terazin Concentration camp in 1943. He wrote an opera that is both charming and satiric, which, due to bold portrait of a Hitler-like kaiser, never got performed. Until now, that is. London Record's Entartete Musik series has produced another winner.
Librettist Peter Kien's story is about a mythical kingdom in which no one dies, even mortally wounded soldiers. Confusion reigns and Ullmann's music contributes, with strange rhythms that enhances the absurdity of the situation. Sometimes his odd melange of styles invoke Kurt Weill with their spirited phrasings; other times Mahler. Such as the scene in which Death tells Emperor Overall that he is "the comfortable warm nest into which a tormented life flies, the final lullaby."
Apart from a handful of string quartets and some songs, not much enduring music came out of Terazin itself. Most likely Der Kaiser von Atlantis, scarcely forty-five minutes long and performed by a chamber ensemble, will be the most enduring piece to emerge from that era. Conductor Lothar Zagrosek and the cast does an admirable job of performing this piece with spirited elan, turning it into a work of art rather than a historical curiosity.
Copyright © 1996, Peter Bates