Nash Ensemble: Theresienstadt – Terezín Weekend

Written by: Andrew Maisel

Concert 1:

Song without words for string quartet

Ilse Weber
Four songs

Adolf Strauss

Ein Judisches Kind

String Trio

Die Nischt – Gewesenen

3 lieder, Op.37

Passacaglia and Fugue for string trio

Vsechno jde Terezinsky mars

Adolf Strauss
Ich weiss bestimmt, ich werd dich wiedersehn

Drunt im Prater ist ein Plätzerl


Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone)

Marianne Thorsen & Thomas Gould (violins), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello)

Russell Ryan (piano)

Nash Ensemble

Saturday 19th June, 2010

Concert 2:

String Quartet No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata)

String Quartet No.2 with percussion, Op.7

Marianne Thorsen &
David Adams (violins), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins(cello)

Nash Ensemble

Sunday 20th June, 2010

Concert 3:

Overture to the Bartered Bride (arr. D Matthews)

Brundibár Suite (arr. P Pokorny)
3 Songs for baritone, clarinet, viola and cello

Piano Sonata No.6, Op.49

Meditation on an old Bohemian Chorale (St Wenceslas), Op.35a

Duo for violin and cello

4 Songs on Chinese Poetry (arr. for voice and ensemble by J van Wlijmen)

Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone)

Ian Brown (piano)

Nash Ensemble
Lionel Friend

Sunday 20th June, 2010

The story of what happened in the Terezín (Thereiesienstadt in German) concentration camp from 1941-5 in one of the most remarkable of the Second World War. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 left the Jewish population at the mercy of their Nazi occupiers. The Terezín camp was set up towards the end of 1941 and over a period of 4 years, 140,000 Jews passed through the camp. 20,000 survived, some died at Terezín, and most were transported to the East and gassed at Auschwitz. Run by the Jews themselves, Terezín housed much of the Czech cultural elite. Musicians (including the celebrated conductor Karel Ancerl, who survived the war), artists, writers and designers were allowed by the Nazis to organise their own activities. The frequency and quality of cultural activities taking place there was astonishing. The Nazis, seeing the potential propaganda possibilities of Terezín, imposed little or no censorship on activities (even Mendelssohn was performed)and even invited the International Red Cross in(after a “beautification” programme)
to show how humanely they were treating the inmates. A propaganda film of life in Terezin, made by the Nazis, which was never completed, was shown during the weekend events.

Hats off then to Amelia Freedman, Artistic Director of the Nash Ensemble, for organising such a stimulating weekend of talks, films, paintings, and getting together a large number of camp survivors, all of whom had made a significant cultural contribution to life in Terezín. And congratulations, too, to the members of the Nash Ensemble who over the two days turned in an extraordinary number of performances of the highest quality in a wide range of repertoire.

Some of the music performed over the weekend has rarely been performed. Most of it was composed in Terezín. Some of it was written before the war by composers who eventually ended up in the camp. Some pieces had special significance such as Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride which was performed there 35 times. Here the Overture received a scaled down chamber arrangement for the Nash Ensemble by the composer David Matthews in a brisk and breezy treatment.

Pavel Haas, who wrote his Second String Quartet in 1925 but was later transported to Terezín was a pupil of Janáček and the influence of his teacher is clearly heard in the slow rising melodies of the first movement. It is an interesting work, full of original ideas and melodies, although the optional percussion part in the finale “Wild Night” seems totally out of place. Earlier the Ensemble had given a magnificent reading of Janáček’s First String Quartet, emphasizing the sudden mood swings where the writing seems to shift from sudden calm to despair and back again in a few bars.

Gidon Klein’s String Trio follows a Classical three movement structure and is bursting with vibrant folk melodies and rich textures. Hans Krása’s Passacaglia and Fugue also reaches deep into folklore for its inspiration but here the mournful lament of the opening movement is more indicative of the work’s tragic inception. The short but furious “Tanec” which followed is truly a dance-of-death; the pounding rhythms captured magnificently by the Nash Ensemble. Erwin Schuloff’s Duo for Violin and Cello elicited playing of great vitality from Marianne Thorsen and Paul Watkins while Suk’s Meditation on the old Czech Chorale Saint Wenceslas was deeply felt. Only Ian Brown’s under par rendition of the Ullmann Piano Sonata disappointed.

Strangely enough it was the lighter works which really captured the defiant spirit of Terezín. Krása’s suite from his children’s opera Brundibar was a highlight. Written in 1938, this delightful 30-minute work became of the most popular and most performed pieces at Terezín, with its message that good can triumph over evil, and a score that is melodic, witty and incisive without ever getting sentimental. Petr Pokorny’s 1995 distillation of the opera into a 15-minute suite for 13 instruments emphasized what a fine score this is.

Domažlicky’s Song Without Words is an engaging piece of salon music; its light, charming melodies conjuring up images of a lazy afternoon in Vienna. There is no sense of the conditions under which it was composed and performed, but that is what Domažlicky wanted to get across. Amid all the hardships and uncertainties he wanted to convey a feeling of optimism and of the need to live for the day. But it was
the songs with words which really touched the heart. It is the cheerful melodies contrasted with lyrics expressing a longing for home and the need to wish for a better day which give these songs their bittersweet nature. In Wolfgang Holzmair and Russell Ryan, they had two wonderful interpreters; Ryan’s sensitive accompaniment the perfect foil for Holzmair’s soaring, expressive baritone. The melodies in Illse Weber’s For All Will be Well are upbeat and cheerful but the words convey a different feeling: “Swallow your tears, bite back your pain,
Don’t listen to insults and abuse; In spite of everything, let your will be as hard as bronze to overcome distress”.

Carlo Sigmund Taube’s A Jewish Child and Adolf Strauss’s Homesickness express the desire for a Jewish homeland: “We need a land of our own to make an end of distress and pain, To create things with our own hands
And to be a people among peoples”. Holzmair sang these songs with great warmth and the deepest humanity, wearing a smile not of joy but of the sadness of a people who lived in fear of their future. Their captors knew they had very little time to live. The anonymous Terezín Lied which parodies a song from one of Emmerich Kalman’s popular operettas was almost unbearably moving. A rousing tune and defiant lyrics sums up the spirit of the camp and moved many in the audience to tears. A fitting memorial and testimony to the human spirit in the face of adversity.

“Yes, in Terezín
We take life just as it comes,
For to do otherwise
Would be our misfortune”

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