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Franz REIZENSTEIN (1911-1968)
Cello Concerto (1936 with later revisions) [35.00]
Berthold GOLDSCHMIDT (1903-1996)
Cello Concerto (1953) [21.02]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Nicholas Milton
rec. 2016/17, Konzerthaus, Berlin
Voices in the Wilderness – Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers, Volume 2
CPO 555 109-2 [56.06]

On the CPO Label renowned cellist Raphael Wallfisch has embarked on a projected series that revives forgotten cello music of exiled Jewish composers who escaped Fascism and the Third Reich. The first volume in the series was an album of cello concertos by Gál and Castelnuovo-Tedesco (review). Wallfisch identifies closely with the theme of the project as his parents were Jewish musicians active in Germany, who survived the Holocaust and subsequently emigrated to England. Wallfisch writes, “The whole journey has a lot of connotations and significance – it almost feels like we are completing the plans of the exiled composers by recording their music in Berlin, to allow their music to live on”.

For volume two of the series Wallfisch (with the same Berlin orchestral forces) turns his attention to cello concertos by Franz Reizenstein and Berthold Goldschmidt. With the rise of Nazism in Germany and their livelihood ruined, the composers fled Berlin, in 1934 and 1935 respectively, as refugees to Britain. Whilst working in Berlin each composer avoided the Late-Romantic excesses of Richard Strauss and his circle and also the school of Schönberg’s twelve-tone method of composition.

An early work from 1936, Reizenstein intended his cello concerto for its dedicatee Mosa Havivi. The composer revised the score before an open rehearsal in 1948 with a further revision prior to its official première in 1951 given by cellist William Pleeth with BBC Northern Orchestra under Charles Groves in Manchester. In the booklet notes Michael Haas justifiably points out the influences of Reizenstein’s teachers, Paul Hindemith and Ralph Vaughan Williams, in the concerto. Soloist Wallfisch excels in this intense and intrepid score that is high on drama and which he attests as “a tour de force for the cellist”. The dark and brooding passion of the lengthy opening movement – marked Allegro ma non troppo – is engaging, as is the yearning melancholy of the intense Lento (an elegy, with its reference to Hindemith’s Trauermusik). Robust and uncompromising, the Finale: Molto moderato has a particularly virtuosic conclusion to cap this masterly score. Entirely compelling, this outstanding work is a significant find that I would love to hear in concert performance.

During the 1950s Goldschmidt composed three concertos, one for clarinet, one for violin and a cello concerto written for William Pleeth. The basis of the concerto was a cello sonata written some twenty years earlier for his friend Emanuel Feuermann but subsequently lost. It was Pleeth who introduced the four-movement cello concerto in 1954 with the BBC Scottish Orchestra under the composer, on a BBC Third Programme broadcast. The opening movement, Andante, is swirling and rather airless, and at times feels claustrophobic; there is little respite in the following Caprice mélancolique, which contains a similarly oppressive atmosphere. There is an abundance of tension in the Quasi Sarabande that has a character of unsettling apprehension. Wallfisch feels totally at one with the turbulence of the Tarantella: Finale, which is very bustling and resolute. Splendidly played here by Wallfisch, Goldschmidt has written a worthy and interesting work but not one that I believe matches the engaging quality of the Reizenstein.

Throughout the album soloist Raphael Wallfisch, such an expert communicator, performs with unerring resolve and with fire in his belly. With immaculate intonation Wallfisch plays his Montagnana (1733) ‘ex-Romberg’, producing an attractively rich and warm sound. Nicholas Milton conducts the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, which is in fine form, playing with passion and entirely responsive to the soloist. Recorded in the splendid acoustic of the Konzerthaus, Berlin the sound quality has both excellent clarity and balance between soloist and orchestra. There is an interesting and informative essay by Michael Haas in the booklet.

This series is definitely worth exploring. Splendidly played and recorded, if the repertoire suits there is no need to hesitate with this album. Reizenstein’s cello concerto is a real discovery. Today Raphael Wallfisch has informed me that this year there will be three more releases in his Voices in the Wilderness series with cello concertos by Karl Weigl, Mieczysław Weinberg, Paul Ben Haim, Erich Korngold and Ernest Bloch.

Michael Cookson

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