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  • Myron Silberstein, Fanfare Magazine

"Strongly recommended."

"In their thoughtful program notes to this album, entitled The Last Epiphany after the eighth of Norbert Glanzberg’s extraordinary In Memoriam—Holocaust Lieder, Thilo Dahlmann and Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar immediately address what readers of this review’s headnote are surely already curious about: that this recital “juxtaposes compositions that could hardly be more opposite.” What is Glanzberg’s 1983 cycle—settings of texts by victims of the Holocaust (including several who perished in Nazi death camps)—doing wedged between Brahms’s settings of German folksongs and Schubert’s setting of Johann Mayrhofer’s sophisticated poem of futility and isolation?

The musicians write that they were “guided by Norbert Glanzberg’s compositional approach of countering horror with beauty.” The Brahms songs “embody the greatest possible innocence and impartiality in text and music” whereas the Schubert is “full of mourning and melancholy.” Between them is Glanzberg’s music, which itself is in equal measure achingly tender and full of outrage and pain.

 

But Dahlmann and Djeddikar’s program offers more than just contrast. They have programmed the Brahms songs in a steadily darkening order that includes Sonntag amidst the Volkslieder. Beginning with the sweet lovesickness of “All mein Gedanken,” in which the beloved lifts the speaker’s spirits even in her absence, and moving through various playfully flirtatious songs in which young women discourage their suitors from entering their “gardens” lest they treat its treasures cavalierly, the Brahms cycle ends with songs focused upon weeping and inconstancy. Dahlmann and Djeddikar write that these final songs “unmistakably head for the transition to the second part with Glanzberg’s songs and their so very different, so serious subject matter.” I’d go further. The ending of Brahms’s “Da unten im Tale,” in which the speaker hopes that “things will go better elsewhere” for the departing beloved, is positioned to form an explicit dialog with Glanzberg’s “Im Gefängnis,” in which the speaker wishes to give freedom to all captive birds and gentle glimmers of light through dark clouds as a symbol of hope to those who suffer. Put simply, this is subtle, surprising, and brilliant programming.

 

Glanzberg’s cycle is clearly the centerpiece of the program, and it is likely to be the least familiar to potential listeners. Norbert Glanzberg was born in Galicia in 1910, wrote the score for Billy Wilder’s 1931 film The Wrong Husband, played piano for Django Reinhardt while in exile in Paris after Goebbels denounced him, toured with and wrote for Edith Piaf, and managed to survive the Nazi occupation through the efforts of friends such as Georges Auric and René Laporte, who hid him until the end of the war. He lived the remainder of his long life in Paris, where he died in 2001 at the age of 90.

 

One might expect, given its texts’ provenance and content, that In Memoriam would be a harshly turbulent work of pessimism. Instead, it is suffused with delicate, fragile beauty. Glanzberg’s background in cabaret is at the fore, but hardly as a default idiom; he seems to use vernacular chord progressions and melodic gestures in evocation of lost innocence. “Für Ule,” which Adam Kuckhoff wrote upon being condemned to death for his work in a resistance group as a farewell to his five-year-old son, is a gently lilting berceuse, rich in seventh chords—almost a folksong in its musical profile. “Du Alter Baum”—an address to the tree that has borne witness to the milestones of the speaker’s life, from her childhood games to her first kiss, and now to the evil that is destroying everything around it—alternates Schubertian passages of purely diatonic melody and accompaniment with passages of sumptuous Poulencian harmonies. In “Abschied” and “Nachtgedanken,” Glanzberg uses closely spaced ninth chords and added-note chords in a way that suggests an Expressionistic sound world, but quickly resolves these chords into more familiar harmonies. This is a masterful use of the breadth of Glanzberg’s musical knowledge. It’s telling, for example, that the more militant of the cycle’s songs use dotted rhythms and augmented triads in a way that is surely intended to evoke Wagner’s Walküre leitmotif.

 

Thilo Dahlmann is a bass-baritone of uncommon lyricism. He can certainly produce a heroic sound, but even in the most violent passages he does not bark his words, and he rarely breaks his legato. His gentler singing is rich in tone but not thick, and intimate but not crooning. In the multi-character texts of Brahms’s Volkslieder, he produces subtly different timbres for male and female characters without caricature or vocal distortion; instead, one hears innocence and lasciviousness vocally personified. Hedayet Jonas Djeddikar is an expressive and agile pianist who is highly attuned to color. Both Glanzberg and Schubert make much of shifts from major to minor and back again, and so does Djeddikar. The engineering places the piano quite far in the background—or perhaps places the voice too far forward; the first sound on the disc is a substantial inhalation, which I’m certain would have been barely audible in a live performance. But even in its somewhat muted state, it’s clear how much Djeddikar’s accompaniment contributes to each song’s expressive profile.

 

There are, of course, many other recordings of the Brahms and the Schubert, and there are two other recordings of the Glanzberg currently listed on Presto Music. But comparisons in this case are fatuous; Dahlmann is an effective enough communicator of these songs that, as I listened, I did not track what he did differently from Schwarzkopf or Fischer-Dieskau. Equally important, the programming provides a musical-emotional experience in itself that is, to my knowledge, entirely unprecedented. The fine singing combined with the superb programming makes for a powerful disc indeed. Strongly recommended."






 

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