JAAP NICO HAMBURGER (b. 1959): Chamber Symphonies No. 1 “Remember to Forget” (Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute) and No. 2 “Children’s War Diaries” (Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Vincent de Kort).
Catalogue Number: 11W011
Label: Leaf Music
Description: When we welcomed this composer’s powerful piano concerto (09W059) in September, we alluded to its apparently strong and emotionally compelling, though hidden, program. These two symphonies, by contrast, are overtly programmatic, and in both cases the program is concerned with the plight of the Jewish people under the Nazis. Both are emotionally compelling, highly expressive, tonal works, rich in musical allusion and vivid imagery. The first is based on Geörgy Ligeti's life, as a survivor of Auschwitz (where his father and brother were murdered), and then of Hungarian communism. The metaphor of a train journey is a recurring feature of the work, with its associations with the death camps, and also of Ligeti's escape from Hungary. The 'train' mini-movements within movements are ostinato-driven; there is a shockingly brutal, primitive 'military' section, episodes of reflection, foreboding, and dread, and a desolate return "to a home no longer there". The second movement is livelier, hopeful and optimistic, with references to folk music, a Yiddish song, and a final triumphant journey into a brighter future. The Second Symphony is in five brief movements, inspired by the diaries of teenagers who were murdered during the war years. The impetus for its composition was a visit to Israel for the presentation of his mother’s autobiography at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem. She was a Holocaust survivor who was around the age of the writers of the diaries. The emotionally gripping music begins with a naïve march and a child's chant, blown away by a sudden catastrophe; then a sinister, ticking ostinato which becomes a threatening march and then a lament; a slow movement like a sorrowful elegy, scored for a chamber ensemble of piano and strings; an eerie, haunted yet gently lyrical movement with ghostly voices over a loudspeaker - announcements at some place of departure? - in the background at start and finish; and a final fractured reprise of the opening march.