Complete Works for Voice and Piano
Ania Vegry (soprano), Dominique Horwitz (speaker), Katarzyna Wasiak (piano)
EDA EDA 45 102:23 mins (2 discs)
This world premiere recording of songs by Polish-born composer Simon Laks (1901-83) is quite a discovery. Almost every track in this extensively annotated and superbly performed two-disc set demonstrates Laks’s special gift for capturing the emotional essence of the poetry to which he felt the closest affinity and clothing it with idiomatic vocal writing and instantly evocative piano accompaniments.
The first disc focuses primarily on his earliest songs composed from 1938 onwards. These include an extensive number of settings of poems by Julian Tuwim, covering a wide range of emotions from utter despair (‘Erratum’) to gentle nostalgia (‘Happiness’). Laks generally writes in a fluid musical style that lies somewhere between Ravel and Szymanowski (hardly surprising given that he spent most of his life in France). In some works, he effectively bestrides the seemingly incompatible worlds of popular chanson and serious art-song.
The second disc explores the songs composed after the end of the Second World War and his release from Auschwitz. The traumatic experience of his incarceration surely casts a dark shadow over ‘Elegy for the Jewish Villages’, ‘Funeral’ and ‘Portrait-of the-Bird-That-Does-Not-Exist’ which must rank as among the most poignant of all his songs. In stark contrast, the simplicity, accessibility and virtuosity of the Eight Jewish Folk Songs from 1947, delivered here with such gusto and commitment by Ania Vegry and Katarzyna Wasiak, should by rights guarantee them a secure place on the concert platform.