This CD is a reflection of the Szymon Laks Project (2009-11), initiated by the cellist Stephan Heber and performed by the Leo Smit Ensemble. The music of Szymon Laks has been undeservedly neglected for quite a long time. Recently, the music publishers Boosey & Hawkes began publishing his compositions, making his oeuvre more accessible. The musicians of the Leo Smit Ensemble were enamored by the quality of Laks’ music and gladly added his works to their repertoire. The ensemble gave many concerts of Laks’ music in the Netherlands, France and Germany. The compositions have been greeted enthusiastically everywhere. Most of these works are being recorded for CD for the first time.
Szymon Laks was born on November 1, 1901, and began studying mathematics in Vilnius, Lithuania. He later choose to study music (composition, harmony and counterpoint) in his birthplace, Warsaw, Poland. In 1926, he left for Paris where he continued composition lessons with Pierre Vidal and Henri Rabaud. In 1941, Laks was arrested because of his Jewish background and transferred to the Pithiviers work camp near Orléans. In July 1942, he was deported to Auschwitz. Laks survived the concentration camp by working as a violinist, arranger and, later, conducting the orchestra. In 1944, he was taken to Dachau and, after being liberated, he returned to Paris where he lived until his death in 1983.
Laks’ earliest music is characteristically in a neo-classical French style in which lightness and clarity prevail, although the influence of Polish musical traditions are present. Besides Polish folklore, Laks also uses Jewish and Slavic folk melodies in his music. The ‘Huit Chants Populaires Juif’ were written shortly after the end of the war, the period in which Laks recorded his memories of the concentration camp Auschwitz in the book ‘Musique d’un autre Monde’. In these songs, the composer exposes the richness of Jewish folk music using traditional Yiddish texts. The songs are humoristic and fresh with a poignant undertone. Laks’ musical style after the war remained consistent: tonal, polyphonic and with clear, tight forms.
The Leo Smit Ensemble was founded in 1996, evolving out of the Uilenburger Concert Series in Amsterdam, organized by the Leo Smit Foundation. The ensemble, under the artistic direction of flutist Eleonore Pameijer, endeavors to reacquaint a broad audience with the music of composers persecuted during the Second World War. The ensemble has recorded CDs with the music of Leo Smit, Nico Richter, Jacques Beers, Dick Kattenburg and Rosy Wertheim.