August 10, 2017
Transcentury Communications reviews: Surviving: Women’s Words
Surviving: Women’s Words
Surviving: Women’s Words

by Mark Estren

Another fine CD of limited scope and appeal – defiantly so – is a new (+++) Centaur recording of music in which David Garner sets the words of four Jewish women who endured and survived World War II and Nazism. The performers are members of Ensemble for These Times, one of many chamber groups focusing specifically on 20th- and 21st-century music.

Garner’s settings are effective, particularly in the longest work here, Chanson für Morgen (2012) to words by Mascha Kaléko (1907-1975). The eight songs encapsulate both the Jewish experience of World War II and that of Poland, from which Kaléko and her family emigrated. The pieces’ effectiveness lies in the way they speak of the destruction of Judaism and Jewish culture in Eastern Europe while making the loss of history and of a sense of belonging into a wider experience, not one unique to Jews or to a specific time period. This poetic reaching-out beyond the specific lends Chanson für Morgen generality, if not quite universality, that goes beyond the effect of the other works here: the three-song Mein blaues Klavier (2015) to poems by Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), six-song Phönix (2013) to poems by Rose Ausländer (1901-1988), and five-song Song Is a Monument (2014) to poems by Yala Korwin (1933-2014).

These three works speak from different angles of the poets’ determination to prevent the Jewish experience of the Holocaust from being forgotten. That makes them testimony of a sort, certainly valuable to the modern Jewish community and to historians focused on World War II and its effects. But neither the words nor Garner’s well-thought-out settings give these pieces anything like the reaching-out quality of Chanson für Morgen.

The CD is by definition a “cause recording,” bearing the overall title “Jewish Music & Poetry Project – Surviving: Women’s Words.” It is thus self-limiting in audience and unlikely to be heard by anyone who does not already feel a kinship with or commitment to its concept. The implication is that the recording is designed for a narrow purpose and audience, and that limited focus is indeed present in three of Garner’s four works. It is the fourth, though, Chanson für Morgen, that will be most involving for anyone who hears it despite not being firmly committed to the material by a Jewish background or by a pre-existing interest in the time and topic explored here by Ensemble for These Times.

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