"Vedem" CD Review
I have waxed lyrical about the music of Lori Laitman previously in these pages (a disc titled Within These Spaces that I reviewed in Fanfare 33:l). All of which is made more surprising by the fact that Laitman's music is so approachable, so grateful to both performer and listener, and I am more of a hard-hitting modernism sort of guy, having spent my formative years surrounded by performances of the likes of Boulez, Ligeti, and Stockhausen. I see no reason to adjust my positive impressions of Laitman on the strength of this most recent release of choral music.
The fate of children in the Holocaust forms the basis of the harrowing Vedem (2010). Around 15,000 children passed through Terezin (rechristened Theriesenstadt) during the war years. The work's title, Vedem, refers to a Czech word meaning "in the lead." Thanks to the actions of Sidney Taussig (a Terezin survivor), 800 pages of these poems survive. The libretto that surrounds and contains some of these poems is by David Mason, who previously collaborated with Laitman on her opera, The Scarlet Letter. The solo items can be performed independently as a song cycle, which seems a remarkably ecological use of her material. Scoring is tightly controlled: Laitman uses a clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (at times, Messiaen's Quatuor pour le fin du temps seems to be invoked). Laitman's music itself is imbued with a humanitarian warmth that seems to complement her leitmotivic structure by underpinning the words with a musical consistency. She narrowly avoids a sugary tonality at times, pulling back to more restrained textures and more disjointed utterances ("Just a Little Warmth" from the work's third part).
Laitman deliberately gives the children's chorus simpler lines than those for the soloists, and this eminently practical ploy works perfectly. The impression of innocence is painfully visceral. One almost does not notice Laitman's skill as a word setter, or her structural mastery that enables the work to speak as deeply as it does. This comes in retrospect (if you're a music analyst) or not at all (as it probably should be). The message is that it is the children's experiences, and the whole event that was Terezin, that should remain centerstage.
Fathers (2002) is heard here in its 2010 version for mezzo-soprano. The poetry is by Anne Ranasinghe and David Vogel. A sequence of fragments lead finally to a fuIl version of the poem "Don't Cry." Laitman's conceit of capturing the idea of a camera halting time and retaining a single instant is conveyed by strategically placed fermatas, and works well. Perhaps most memorable, though, is Laitmanls sensitive handling of her instrumentation (violin, cello, and piano).
Angela Niederloh is a superb mezzo (who has also been featured in Naxos's Schoenfeld recordings). She seems the perfect choice to lead this disc. The recording quality is top-rank. All texts are included. A most touching experience, and one that further confirms Laitman's status as one of the most talented and intriguing of living composers.