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The next song was a setting of a Yiddish poem by Abraham Sutzkever, from Senator's song cycle A Cartload of Shoes, the title referring to the people from Vilna who used to walk in there, and now, after being murdered by the Nazis, they return to haunt their empty shoes. Here a harrowing element was the use of a rhythmic tapping of the piano case, as if alluding at the same time to the tapping of a shoe maker, the spectral victims and machine gun sounds of the concentration camp. Teresa Gobel conveyed the mood of veiled angst through her velvety steady, sometimes declamatory melody, set over a scampering piano texture.

Miriam Brickman brought eloquence to two contrasting movements from the piano sonatas of Victor Ullmann, the main figure of a group of talented composers at Terezin, who like most of his colleagues such as Gidon Klein, Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa, was deported in October to Auschwitz where he perished in the gas chambers. The Nocturne from his 5th sonata was prefaced by her reading of a poem, Before Night, dedicated by Karl Kraus to Ullman's wife Elisabeth. The poem's imagery of approaching death was evoked in the dark beauty of the music, its reflective aura communicated with delicate intensity. By contrast, the first movement of the 6th sonata was dramatic and fiery, leading in to a hushed fugato that gradually filled the tessitura resuming an impassioned vigour, yet concluding abruptly on a question.

A lighter relief came in a 'Tango' from the Jazz Suite (1931) by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a leading Czech composer who died in a camp in Wulzburg; its delicate filigree set to an ironically richly woven harmonic fabric. Teresa Gobel returned to sing two 'cabaret' songs from Terezin, popular genres which clearly helped maintain both survival and a sense of identity. Her colourful characterisations underlined the meaning of the words, notably in Carousel, which evoked the style of Kurt Weill inflected with a sweet hurdy-gurdy middle section, and in Terezinlied, in which a melody from Kalman's Countess Maritza is adapted to new words about life in the prison-city.

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Copyright © 8 July 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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