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CD Review

Music from the Holocaust

  • Karel Berman: Suite for Piano "Reminiscences"
  • Pavel Haas: Suite for Piano, Op. 13
  • Gideon Klein: Sonata for Piano
  • Viktor Ullmann: Sonata for Piano #7
Paul Orgel, piano
Phoenix PHCD161 69m DDD
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The four composers represented on this disc all have two things in common, they come from what was then known as Czechoslovakia and all of them shared the horrendous barbarity of the Terezín Concentration camp. Of the four, only Karel Berman (1919-1995) survived. Pavel Haas (1899-1944) and Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) were murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers, while Gideon Klein (1919-1945) disappeared after months of hard labour in the Auschwitz sub-camp of Furstengrube.

Of the works on this CD, only Haas's Piano Suite predates the Holocaust. Composed in 1935, it seems to reflect the composer's then happy state of mind, and although one can detect Janáček's influence, this 5-movement suite is filled with rhythmic energy and folk like lyricism.

Berman's 1938-1945 Piano Suite is just one of two compositions that Berman wrote throughout his whole life. Movements 3, 5 and 7 were composed in Terezín in 1944 but Berman added another five movements in 1997 on the suggestion of the scholar Joža Karas. In this Suite, the composer describes his youth, family life and the Holocaust aspiring for a new and better life.

Klein's Piano Sonata dates from 1943 and despite its brevity (nearly 11 minutes), the work is passionate, emotional and extremely disturbing. In Schoenberg-like language, Klein describes his anguish and pain with regards to his Terezín experience, and hints at his hopes for freedom which were tragically defeated. The composer planned to include a 4th movement, but this did not materialize.

Ullmann's Piano Sonata #7 is the last of over two dozen works that he composed in Terezín. It was completed on August 22nd 1944, less than two months before his death and is dedicated to his children. In this remarkable piece, the composer gives the notion that the work is meant to be a summing up of his life's toils and aspirations. This Sonata is an impassioned outburst in favour of that human diversity which is in each and every one of us, and a stern indictment of the sterile racist ideology so desired by the Nazis.

Paul Orgel's interpretations manage to convey all the suffering that lies beneath the notes, and his versatile imagery helps the listener visualize the hell that these composers went through. This is a CD full of harrowing memories that should remind us of the high price that was paid for freedom's sake.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech