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  • Robert Moore, American Record Guide

"The performances are excellent."

"This program juxtaposes contrasting compositions: the innocence and beauty of everyday life found in folksong settings by Johannes Brahms is contrasted with the inhumane horror of the Holocaust in Norbert Glanzberg’s settings of texts by its victims. The subject matter of the texts Brahms set is of a radically different ethos than what Glanzberg set, but the musical style of the whole album is on common ground. The program is capped off with a single song by Schubert, `Abendstern’, which acts like an encore to the Glanzberg songs.

The 16 Brahms selections come from his several books of folksong settings about everyday experience that in themselves also present contrasts between songs of joy and sadness, songs of flirtation and songs of farewell and everything in between. The selections offer a good representative sampling of his settings. Because they are so familiar, there is no need to write more about them here; what follows will be unfamiliar to more listeners and warrants comment.

The heart of the program is In Memoriam--Holocaust Lieder by Norbert Glanzberg (1910-2001), a Polish-born Jewish composer who fled to France in the rise of Nazism. There he partnered with Edith Piaf serving as her accompanist and composing songs she made famous. In 1984 he discovered an anthology of poems by Holocaust victims--persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered artists. The terror of the Holocaust that he himself had experienced continued to haunt him in the form of depression and anxiety. Discovering these poems led him to break with his previous musical identity of composing mainly in what the program notes call “the realm of entertaining and functional music” and turn to the late Romantic song style and tonality. Glanzberg’s musical style intentionally resisted the more severe tonality adopted in the early 20th century and turned to the Romantic piano song, except when it graphically describes the horror in stark terms in `The Oven of Lublin’.

The title song of the album, `The Last Epiphany”, is particularly moving. The text by Werner Bergengruen presents God speaking of having sent messenger after messenger and being ignored and shunned when coming in the guise of the needy--and who now comes as judge. The poem by this banned Christian critic of National Socialism was read in Jerusalem during the Eichmann trial. The final song of “In Memoriam”, `To the People of Earth’, was written directly after the end of the war. Like `The Last Epiphany’ it comes from Bergengruen’s cycle of poems “Dies Irae” It is a powerful word of judgment to the peoples of the Earth for “the horrors that roared across the borders into the world in which we all stand guilty as peoples of the world, who originate with us from the same primordial ground.”

Many of the texts are by German citizens who were not Jewish but whom, because of their resistance to Nazism, were victims of the Holocaust. Several songs are settings of moving texts by resistance figures: a father’s touching farewell to his young son, a man’s farewell letter written immediately after hearing his death sentence pronounced, a remembrance of when life was good as symbolized by a beloved tree as the world is being destroyed “by all the poison-laden rain.” Another is like a prayer that God will be faithfully present at death. A particularly lovely lullaby asks that an innocent child be sheltered in a protective house. The sadness of a man’s love song to his wife as the end approaches is heartbreaking.

The songs become increasingly powerful and sorrowful as the texts become increasingly grim, reaching a climax in the description of the Lublin cremation oven. Each of the songs is introduced by a note that gives the name of the writer and the circumstances in which the text was written.

What is striking about these songs is that they treat the Holocaust horrors in beautiful musical language that contrasts so starkly with the texts, much in the same way you hear that paradox in Schubert songs. As Dahlmann and Djeddikar comment in their introductory remarks, “In selecting the pieces for this recording we were guided by Norbert Glanzberg’s compositional approach of countering horror with beauty.”

The program is capped off with a single song by Schubert, `Abendsterm’, his setting Mayrhofer’s words of mourning and melancholy, “I remain mournfully silent at home” that suggests a psychic numbing in the face of such human depravity. This album was as much a tearful spiritual journey for me as it was a rewarding musical journey.

The performances are excellent. Dahlmann’s warm and expressive voice conveys well the message of the songs, whether they are about beauty or horror. Djeddikar is attentive and sensitive partner in both the tender and the occasionally jarring accompaniment. I look forward to hearing more recordings from them."


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