SILENCED VOICES: Kattenburg: String Trio—Kuti: Serenade for String Trio—Krasa: Passacaglia and Fugue for String Trio, Tanec for String Trio—Klein: Trio for Violin, Viola & Cello—Herman: String Trio—Frid: String Trio—Black Oak Ensemble—Cedille CDR 90000 189, ****:
All but one of the string trios on this disc were written by composers who perished in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Their premature deaths cut short their musical lives and prevented us from hearing what they might have written. Yet, the fact that some of them found ways to continue to pursue their passion of composing under dire circumstances must have been a factor in keeping them alive. It’s hard not to consider the context of their lives in listening to this music. While the Black Oak Ensemble is devoted to performing undiscovered music, clearly this music’s historical context ‘spoke’ to them. And yet, as listeners in the 21st century we have the choice to hear the music with or without the context in which they were written.
Hungarian composer Sandor Kuti (1908-45) wrote on scraps of paper that he lined with musical staves when captive in a forced labor camp in Ukrainian territory. Famed conductor George Solti was one of Kuti’s classmates at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Of Kuti, Solti said, “I am convinced, had he lived, he would have become one of Hungary’s greatest composers.” The Serenade for String Trio (1934) features tart folk melodies, a motoric Giocoso and a plangently beautiful threnody.
Hans Krasa (1899-1944) studied with Zemlinsky and Roussel. His Symphony No. 1 was performed by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1926. He wrote the children’s opera Brundibar (Bumblebee) in 1938 for a competition that never was held because of the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Krasa re-orchestrated it in 1942 for over 50 performances in the Nazi demonstration internment camp of Theresienstadt. The Passacaglia and Fugue for String Trio was composed in 1944, the final year of Krasa’s life. Its somber and profound beginning is leavened by a spirited fugue of a composer at his heights. Tanec (dance) for String Trio is a perpetual whirlwind that mimics a train in motion. Krasa is one of the best of the composers that perished in the holocaust.
Gideon Klein (1919-1945) was twenty-two when he arrived in Theresienstadt in 1941. While there, he accompanied many performances as a pianist. He composed the String Trio (1944) only nine days before being deported to Auschwitz where he died. The emotional center of his String Trio is the beautiful “Lento,” a theme and variations based on a Moravian folksong. The first and last movement are rhythmically vibrant, reminiscent of early Bartok.
Paul Hermann (1902-44) was a student at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest and an excellent cellist who fled to the Netherlands and France, where the Nazi’s eventually captured him. He died in the Drancy concentration camp. His ‘Strijktrio’ is bittersweet and deeply felt. Dick Kattenberg’s (1919-44) String Trio (1938) was written when he was 19. It’s short but spirited music that is reflective of the hope of youth. He escaped the Nazi’s in the Netherlands, but was also captured and perished somewhere unknown.
The prize of this disc is the world premiere of Geza Frid’s (1904-1989) String Trio, Op. 1. He was a colleague of Paul Hermann at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. He was born in Maramarossziget, an area that bordered Hungary and Romania. Both Kodaly and Bartok mined the folk melodies of this area for their works. He fled to the Netherlands when the Nazi’s came to Hungary where he escaped detection as a “stateless Jew.” He became a citizen and successful composer. The first movement of Frid’s string trio shows the rhythmic influence of folk dances – the Hungarian hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe. It’s infectious and energetic. The andante cantabile is more introspective, except for a brief nervous episode. The last movement is an ingenious treatment of Hungarian folk music.
For those readers for whom context matters, the music on this disc will immerse you in the emotions of the holocaust. For others, the music on this disc stimulates the mind and reminds us how music is a life affirming force. The Black Oak Ensemble performs it with verve and intelligence. It’s a tribute to the dedication and persistence of the musicians who lost their lives.