Composers: Kuti, Krása, Kattenburg, Hermann, Frid
Performers: Black Oak Ensemble
Catalogue Number: Cedille CDR90000189

I’ve never heard of the United States’ Black Oak Ensemble, or any of the works on this album. And that’s what makes it all the more enticing – and powerful. Kattenburg’s Trio à Cordes opens the album with a lively gust of colour; Kuti’s Serenade for String Trio continues this spirit of bite-sized chunks of lesser-performed, 20th-century composition. And after it, Krása’s Passacaglia & Fuga for String Trio marks a somewhat mournful centre of the album.

But one must look beyond the music’s charms (indeed, there are many), and understand why it’s recorded at all. Silenced Voices is distressingly true to its word. All but one of the composers were killed during the Nazi regime. And this changes everything. Kattenburg, as stated in the program notes, penned his energetic piece before he’s said to have perished in a Dutch concentration camp. Kuti studied at the Franz Liszt Academy before being taken to a Ukrainian camp, where he composed on paper scraps until his death. Krása was killed in Auschwitz, having arrived in 1944 from the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

I won’t share each of their stories with you here (we haven’t touched on those of Klein, Hermann, and Frid), because you need to discover them for yourself. Beyond its exceptional musical ability, the Black Oak Ensemble must be applauded for its decision to dedicate its resources and talent to the presentation of fine music by composers who had their own talents stolen.

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