‘Once Upon a Time,” the Bohemian-themed program with which local string ensemble A Far Cry opened its 2013-2014 season Saturday at Jordan Hall, was no fairy tale. The first work on the bill was composed by Gideon Klein, who had passed through the concentration camps of Terezín and Auschwitz before he died in Fürstengrube, a forced-labor camp. The program then turned the clock back to a serenade written by the 18-year-old Josef Suk at the end of the 19th century. It concluded with the earliest work of the three, Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, No. 38. Mozart was of course not a native Bohemian, but when his opera “The Marriage of Figaro” took Prague by storm in 1786, he became a favorite son. The symphony had its premiere in Prague in 1787 and thereafter took its nickname from the city.
Klein, who was born in Moravia in 1919, completed his String Trio in 1944, a couple of weeks before he was moved to Auschwitz; he gave it to his girlfriend for safekeeping, but it didn’t turn up again until 1990. A Far Cry performed it in a version arranged by Vojtech Saudek for chamber orchestra called Partita for Strings. This is a dark work — hardly surprising — where not slipping into atonality is a struggle, an act of faith. Its aggressive opening Allegro pits urban industrial pounding against stamping folk rhythms; after five minutes, the battle abruptly ends. The Lento is an elegy, a lament, a protest, consoling in the rocking of one of its middle variations; the closing Molto vivace is a frenetic dance with the devil that somehow works its way into a major-key conclusion. I had never heard the piece; A Far Cry gave it the weight of an important composition hovering somewhere between Mahler and Shostakovich.