Marion von Tilzer (b. 1970)
Bella Adamova (contralto)
Marion von Tilzer (piano); Maya Fridman (cello); Michael Hesselink (clarinet); Jacobus Thiele (percussion)
rec. 2022, Galaxy Studios, Mol, Belgium
Sung texts in Czech with English translation
trptk TTK0104 SACD 
Austrian-born composer Marion von Tilzer graduated in oboe and composition from the National Music Academy of Ukraine in 2006. Initially she was known for creating compositions that blended traditional Indian music with Western classical forms. After studying piano at the Amsterdam Conservatory, her music has branched out in different directions. This new album offers her explorations to provide music that represents both darkness and light.
The work that is of chief interest on this disc is The Letter of Vilma Grunwald. This piece was inspired by a letter written by a Czech woman who hastily scribbled it to her husband and son, just before she and her baby were taken into custody by the Nazis. She and her baby son died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The original letter survives in The US Holocaust Memorial Museum and was used by von Tilzer with the permission of Frank Grunewald, Vilma’s only surviving son. In the song the words of the letter are sung by the rich contralto voice of Bella Adamova, whose sincere delivery of Von Tilzer’s touching evocation of sadness and resignation is the most affecting track on the disc. The composer captures the emotional mood of the letter with simplicity while her transparent scoring of the piece conveys the deep love and resignation found in Vilma’s note. The vocalist has been recorded at a slight distance from the microphones; this gives the impression that Vilma is singing to the listener from just beyond this world, and adds to the emotional journey of the experience. The letter would be a difficult piece to follow but Von Tilzer manages a perfect transition by creating a new setting of the traditional Czech lullaby Hajej, můj andliku. That piece is also sung by Adamova with a simple directness, and appropriately she stationed closer to the microphone for more immediacy and impact. When the two works are combined as they are here, they are reminiscent of the way that Gustav Mahler concluded his Fourth Symphony, although the sadness lingers through the lullaby.
The rest of the music on this disc are various orchestral evocations of light and dark. Out of the Dark is the opening track on the disc, and demonstrates right off that von Tlizer has a uniquely concentrated musical imagination. The piece begins with the string quartet playing spiky-sounding motifs that gradually shift into themes of movement, overlaid with anxiety and longing. Finally the composer injects elements of syncopation causing the theme to break apart before culminating into a sense of calm. This is music of superb quality and acts as wonderful lead-in to The Letter of Vilma Grunwald. The instrumentalists, led by von Tilzer at the piano, perform their parts with sensitivity and pinpoint ensemble.
The remainder of the tracks on this disc are more apt to showcase the skills of the players as von Tilzer provides music that explores the various themes more fully, as in traditional chamber music. One highlight is The Day the Light Came where each instrument forms textured sounds that are combined with a gently propulsive rhythm that is evocative of a dance.
trptk is a label that is new to me. The company certainly achieves much with regards to sound and the other production values; including a splendid booklet design to accompany this deeply moving release. For this review, only the two channel tracks of the SACD were auditioned.
Out of the Dark
The Letter of Vilma Grunwald
Hajej, můj andliku
Song for Mira
I Heard This in My Dream
The Day the Light Came
Girl Finds a Bright Spot in a Dark World