Anne-Sofie von Otter

Theresienstadt concert, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Music's emotional power is often dependent on its context. A programme of music composed primarily by inmates of the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt was always going to be moving, but the profundity of the encounter still took me by surprise.

Theresienstadt was a holding camp where prisoners stayed before being carted off to the death camps. But there were many longer-term inmates drawn from the Czech and German Jewish elite, who developed a kind of last-resort entertainment culture to keep themselves alive and to afford a glimpse of hope to the shorter-term residents who knew they had none. Eventually, the Nazis co-opted the unlikely renaissance for propaganda purposes by staging operettas and concerts to fool visitors from the Red Cross.

Stylistically, this programme was extremely varied, ranging from Debussyan song settings by Viktor Ullmann and the art-folk songs of Pavel Haas to the cabaret-esque ballads of Adolf Strauss and the skin-deep jollity of the camp's unofficial anthem – "In Terezin we take life as it comes" – adapted from the operetta Countess Maritza by Kalman. The commitment of the performers was unmistakable, Daniel Hope's throaty violin tones in particular echoing perfectly the ambiguous lyricism so often at play.

Like her legendary compatriot Jussi Björling, Von Otter's facility with folk genres is amplified by an ability to inhabit them completely in performance, and it was in many ways the least artful of the song settings that proved the most affecting. The lullaby by the children's author Ilse Weber, who looked after the camp children and voluntarily accompanied them to Auschwitz in 1944, has the simplest rocking melody imaginable. There may have been a dry eye in the house after Von Otter's serenely compassionate rendition, but I couldn't tell. Even my neighbours' faces had reduced to a dim blur.

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