American Record Guide

The names of Franz Shreker, Erwin Schulhoff and Pavel Haas are far from familiar to the general public. Since she stumbled on their music in the early 1980s while studying at the Opera Studio in Hamburg, English soprano Judith Sheridan has been devoted to studying and performing songs of Jewish composers who were banned in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Sheridan, whose father was one of the last Jewish students to study at Hamburg University before the Nazi takeover, has a personal commitment to this music.

Several of these composers were prisoners at Terezin (Theresienstadt), the concentration camp in Czechoslovakia created by Hitler to give a false impression of Nazi tolerance toward Jews. For a time the musical life of Terezin was very rich, given the large number of Jewish musicians imprisoned there, until most of the prisoners were sent to their death at Auschwitz.

Sheridan’s light lyric voice is sweet and she sings with conviction. She is best when she sings softly; at louder dynamic levels she tends to sound shrill and has to strain for some top notes, and she is challenged by the expressionist writing in Victor Ullmann’s Five Love Songs by Ricarda Huch with its angular intervals. The accompaniment is excellent, and it is well recorded in the warm acoustic of the Jacqueline du Pre Building at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. German texts and English translations are supplied, but the text for the one song in English (Berthold Goldschmidt’s setting of Rupert Brooke’s “Clouds”) is not included. Sheridan’s extensive and informative notes on these composers and the effect of the Holocaust on musicians offers a grim reminder of the heinous depths humanity can sink to.

The songs are all worth hearing, particularly Unvergänglichkeit, Erich Korngold’s 1934 set of five songs, and all are thoroughly in the German tradition. It is simply musical justice that this music should be heard by a wider audience.

—R. Moore