16 Jan 2005 Musical Opinion review

Musical Opinion, March 2005

Robert Matthew-Walker

Jacqueline Cole at the Wigmore, 16 January 2005

January 2005 saw the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi Concentration Camp in Poland, and the programme given by the excellent pianist Jacqueline Cole at the Wigmore Hall on the 16th had the overall title Homage to Szymon Laks, all of the music being written by composers who had been interned in such camps. Szymon Laks was born in 1901 and one of the few to survive. He died in Paris in 1983, where the first work on the programme, his Sonata Breve, was composed in 1948. An almost contemporaneous work, Laks’ Ballade: Hommage a Chopin, concluded the recital, and both pieces were receiving their belated UK Premieres. They revealed a gifted composer, fully in command of the medium and of his material, which were very finely projected by Jacqueline Cole, who possesses an admirable self-effacing quality, the music being presented with total commitment and a comprehensive technique.

Two of the shorter of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards opened the second half, both most beautifully phrased, but the remaining music in the programme was all by composers who perished in the camps.

Pavel Haas was born in 1899 and was killed in 1944. His Suite Opus 13 uses elements of popular music of the day and, given the awful circumstances in which it was written, has an undoubted quality of transcendence, which aspect may also be applied to Viktor Ullmann’s Seventh and last Sonata, apparently written on odd scraps of paper in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The concluding movement of Ullmann’s Sonata is a defiant fugue, which ends with a powerfully affirmative D major chord, all the more moving given the circumstances of its creation.

Another Fugue, the penultimate piece in the programme, was by Siegmund Schul, a gifted musician much admired by Ullmann. Schul was born in 1916 and also died in 1944. Sadly this is the only surviving movement from his Piano Sonata.

Each of the works thoroughly deserved to be heard on artistic, rather than on historical-social-political grounds, and Jacqueline Cole’s playing throughout made a deep impression.