Violins of Hope
Heggie: Intonations – Songs from Violins of Hope*; Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80; Schubert: Quartettsatz
*Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Hope, Kay Stern, Dawn Harms (violin), Patricia Hellier (viola), Emil Miland (cello)
Pentatone PTC 5186 879 75:14 mins
The Violins of Hope project brings together instruments played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust – painstakingly restored by Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein as a living reminder of those dark days and an expression of faith in the future. The instruments have subsequently travelled the world, but the concert enshrined on this disc marks a landmark premiere: an artfully-conceived song cycle by Jake Heggie to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Scored for mezzo, solo violin and string quartet, plus a young violinist, Intonations tells the stories of some of the instruments, including one which was found to contain human ash. The third song describes a concert taking place in a gas chamber under ‘shower heads that have never shed a drop of water’.
Heggie, celebrated for his opera Dead Man Walking, accomplishes the task with incontestable fluency, opting for a musical language that marries the contours of Jewish melody with popular idioms; and, in ‘Motele’, he isn’t afraid to quote Mendelssohn who is name-checked in the text. Whether the music penetrates fully the horror is for each listener to decide; but there’s no gainsaying the power and sincerity of the performance headed up by the probing mezzo of Sasha Cooke and impassioned eloquence of the aptly-named solo violinist Daniel Hope. The quartet, drawn from members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, also volunteers visceral accounts of Schubert’s fevered Quartettsatz and Mendelssohn’s quartet ‘Requiem’ for his beloved sister Fanny.