Brundibár, a children's opera by the Czech composer Hans Krása, is among the most famous and enduring musical works to emerge from Theresienstadt, the "model" concentration camp the Nazis set up as a showcase, for international aid groups, demonstrating the civility of their treatment of Jewish prisoners. Krása had written the opera in Prague in 1938 and 1939, but had already been sent to the camp when it was given two performances in 1941. A vocal score made its way to the composer in 1943, and he re-orchestrated it, using the instruments available in the camp. It was performed by the children of the camp 55 times before Krása and most of the cast were transported to Auschwitz, where most of them perished. Brundibár has become one of the most frequently produced modern operas and has been recorded over half a dozen times. A German Benedictine nun, Maria Veronika Grüters, discovered the opera in the 1980s and created a new performing version. She must have had access to both the Prague and Theresienstadt vocal scores, because her version, while relying most heavily on the original, also incorporates some of the revisions Krása made at the camp, and it lasts about 10 minutes longer than any of the other recorded versions, which use the 1993 Tempo edition of the score. She reorchestrated the opera, translated it into German, and mounted its first postwar productions in 1985 and 1986 in Freiburg and Israel. This recording, from the 1986 production, was the first made of the opera, and this Christophorus release is its first issue on CD. While subsequent recordings using Krása's own orchestration can claim greater authenticity, this is an important release historical of a beautifully realized performance. Grüters' recording features children around the ages of the performers in Theresienstadt. She conducts the Choir and Instrumentalists of St. Ursula-Gymnasiums Freiburg, with girls in all the solo roles. Grüters' orchestration is terrifically inventive, witty, and colorful, and it's played with maturity and high energy by her young orchestra. The chorus, which plays a large role, is also first-rate. The vocal soloists bring a sensitive musicality to their consistently fine and well-characterized performances, and their youth makes the enterprise all the more poignant. The sound is clean and balanced, with a good sense of presence. This version should be of interest to anyone who loves the opera, or who wants to explore music that emerged out of the Holocaust.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins