Black Oak Ensemble

Silenced Voices

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Silenced Voices Review

by James Manheim

The music of the many composers who died in the Holocaust has received renewed attention from various angles, including that of whether the music they wrote prior to their incarceration and death has been unjustly neglected. This release from Chicago's Black Oak Ensemble and Cedille label answers in a convincing affirmative. Two of the pieces here, by Gideon Klein and Paul Hermann, were written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where cultural performances were permitted, but the bulk of the pieces were written earlier, before their composers were captured. Mostly they are youthful works, and what they show is an effort to extend the language of Bartók, who in at least one case (Sándor Kuti, who classmate Georg Solti said would have become one of Hungary's greatest composers had he lived) was the composer's actual teacher. Kuti's Serenade for string trio is marked by Hungarian folk rhythms but uses clusters of chords in a way Bartók would not have done. Among the works written at Theresienstadt, Hans Krása's Tánec (Dance) is especially notable: it is a sort of abstract dance unlike anything else of the period. One work, the String Trio, Op. 1, is by Géza Frid, who survived the war by hiding out in the Netherlands; this work, heavily influenced by the instrumentation as well as the tonal world of Hungarian folk music, here receives its world premiere. The performances by the Black Oak Ensemble are rich and obviously well prepared, and the sound from a Northwestern University recital hall is unusually good for such venues. It is worth noting that the album's producer is James Ginsburg, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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