The Secret Exit

The Secret Exit was released by Naxos on May 19, 2020 and features soprano Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk and clarinetist Denise Gainey. This is the premiere recording of The Secret Exit, which sets the poetry of Nobel Laureate Nelly Sachs, as well as the soprano/clarinet version of Living in the Body to poetry of Joyce Sutphen. A new recording of I Never Saw Another Butterfly is included, as well as the clarinet solo Un seul by Kalmen Opperman and Diana Rosenblum’s Winter Rain, based on a Christina Rossetti poem.

“Although there are three composers represented here, it is the music of Lori Laitman that is the clear focus…Commissioned by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Laitman’s The Secret Exit (2017) was written for Hurst-Wajszczuk and Gainey…The texts are by Nelly Sachs, a German Jewish poet who escaped to Sweden in 1940 (and who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966)…Hearing Hurst-Wajszczuk and Gainey work as one on these songs just underlines the music’s power…I Never Saw Another Butterfly was written in 1995-96…the work uses texts by poems written by children in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. While Laitman takes musical ideas from the poetic text, they are never done obviously or clumsily…Laitman finds child-like tunes that somehow take on unbearable poignancy…One becomes aware of the space around the music, the undercurrent that has stolen innocence…Currently finishing a doctorate at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, Diana Rosenblum contributes Winter Rain, a reflection of her response to the Pacific Northwest winter via a poem by Christina Rossetti. I like the phrasing in the notes that Rosenblum “happens to be the daughter of Lori Laitman”; she certainly shares her mother’s gift for poignant melody and finely-honed word setting. This is a haunting piece, a mere three and a half minutes long. It would be good to hear more from Rosenblum…This is a most moving selection of songs for voice and clarinet, beautifully recorded; music to touch both heart and spirit.” Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine (March/April 2021). 

“An entire disc solely devoted to art songs scored for solo voice and clarinet might sound like a maddening exercise in monotony. Fortunately, what is presented here is a poignant and deeply expressive array of songs that draw deeply affecting beauty from the sparse texture that many composers would find to be a crippling and frustrating limitation. Lori Laitman’s central greatness comes not from wielding numberous and complicated elements in complex ways, but rather from her almost uncanny skill for breathing new life into a text through music. When it comes to crafting art songs, nothing else counts at all if this central matter isn’t right. Laitman’s skill in this regard is unsurpassed among current art song composers, and the spare texture of these particular songs actually uderscores this facet of her artistry…The best known work here is I Never Saw Another Butterfly..What is especially poignant about the tetxs that comprise Laitman’s composition is that they were written by some of the children of Terezin, and most of them did not live to walk out of the camp alive. One might expect such a work to be one of unrelenting bleakness and sorrow, but it is in fact a work brimming with life, hope, and even humor from time to time…The Secret Exit from 2017 is comprised of three poems by [Nelly] Sachs that reflect on various facets of life and death…Sachs is brave enough to take us into the darkest and deepest sorrows of this world, and Laitman is brave enough to follow her there…Living in the Body is a work from 2001 that Laitman reshaped for voice and clarinet in 2018. The texts are by Joyce Sutphen, Poet Laureate for the state of Minnesota, who writes with a vibrancy that resonanates perfectly with Laitman…Alongside the poignancy are moments of levity and lightness that gives these songs their distinctive texture. As with everything else on this disc, one cannot help but be astounded by the endless reserves of Laitman’s musical imagination as well as her unerring instincts for setting texts with sensitivity and grace…This is a very special release.” Gregory Berg, The Journal of Singing (March, April 2021)

“The unusual scoring is effective, giving [the songs] a tone of resignation. Laitman writes gracefully for the voice.” American Record Guide, Nov/Dec 2020

“The works on this Naxos release…hang together in quite a powerful way. They are, for one thing, conservative in tonality but not in form, engaging with their texts in free, original ways…The heart of the matter is that composer Lori Laitman’s combination of detailed word-painting with serious subject matter is quite affecting. At the center of the program are two works that deal with the Holocaust, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” setting texts written by children at the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, and its sequel, “The Secret Exit,” on poems by German Jewish writer Nelly Sachs. These draw the listener in with their vivid evocation of the texts and allow their full emotional impact to develop. The other Laitman cycle, “Living in the Body,” sets texts by popular poet Joyce Sutphen and is less grim, but is cut from the same cloth. The Laitman songs are effectively framed by Kalmen Opperman’s somber clarinet solo, “Un seul,” and the more hopeful “Winter Rain,” of Diana Rosenblum. The performances by soprano Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk and clarinetist Denise Gainey are inward and focused, and Naxos’ sound, from an auditorium at the University of Alabama-Birmingham far exceeds the usual standard of university venues: it is clear and intimate. This is a fine addition to the repertory of music that takes up the subject of the Holocaust.” James Manheim,

 “The spare, sinuous way in which Laitman interweaves soprano and clarinet is often strangely enchanting.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2020