MUSIC / Lost links piece of the jigsaw: Composers of Terezin -Wigmore Hall, London

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Monday was the 50th anniversary of the deaths in Auschwitz of the three Czech Jewish composers Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa and Pavel Haas. To mark the event, the British Library Stefan Zweig Series and the B'nai B'rith Jewish Music Festival presented the Kocian Quartet of Prague in a concert of their chamber works, dating both from their time in the Terezin transit camp and from before. By looking beyond the awful circumstances of the ghetto and presenting the full range of the composers' work, the Kocian left little doubt that their murder was one of the major cultural catastrophes of the Second World War.

Perhaps the most broad- ranging of the group was Krasa. In the 20 years between his first string quartet and the Theme and Variations of 1940, his musical accent had mellowed, but lost little of its irony. In places, the quartet is pure 1920s modernism - experimental harmony alongside the kind of Czech irreverence that can turn the opening of The Bartered Bride, a national icon if ever there was one, into a cakewalk.

Ullmann and his younger Terezin colleague, Gideon Klein, seem to have been more single-minded. Their music is more obviously shaded by the Second Viennese School - Ullmann was a Schoenberg pupil - though still touched by their Czech background. In Klein, this is clearest in his string trio, based on a pungent Moravian folk song. In a sense, Haas's third quartet closed the cultural circle. He studied with Janacek and his music stands closest to what we now identify as the Czech tradition.

For those used to interpreting Czech music of the inter- war years in terms of the musical language of Janacek and Martinu, defining these composers might seem problematic. The truth is that, without them, any image of music in the early Czechoslovak Republic is woefully incomplete. It was largely the ferment of Czech, German and Jewish features that these composers represent that made pre-war Prague such an exciting place.

The Kocian Quartet were expert in revealing the thread that binds these composers together - not just as brilliant musical eclectics but, like their contemporary Martinu, as heirs to a remarkable tradition.

Concert supported by the David Cohen Family Charitable Trust

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