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Paul BEN-HAIM (1897-1984)
Cello Concerto (1962) [22:01]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1954) [17:52]
Nigun & Vidui (Baal Shem Suite 'Three Pictures of Chassidic Life') (1923) [9:53]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Cello Concerto in D major in One movement (1946) [13:17]
Tanzlied des Pierrot (Die tote Stadt) (1920) [4:17]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2018, BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff
CPO 555273-2 [67:34]

Back in 2017, CPO launched their series ‘Voices in the Wilderness - Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers’ with a release featuring concertos by Hans Gál and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (review).  The guiding force behind this project was the cellist Raphael Wallfisch, and the aim - to champion Jewish composers who were silenced by the Third Reich and fled their country of origin to survive. We've arrived at the fourth volume now. I've had the pleasure of reviewing that opening venture, in addition to the second volume, where the Austrian composer Karl Weigl was in the spotlight (review). Unfortunately, Volume 3 - concertos by Franz Reizenstein and Berthold Goldschmidt - passed me by. Up until now, Wallfisch has collaborated with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Nicholas Minton. For this latest release he joins forces with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Polish conductor Łukasz Borowicz.

Paul Ben-Haim’s three-movement Cello Concerto was written in 1962. It is both virtuosic, yet expressive and draws upon Eastern Mediterranean elements, juxtaposed within a European framework. There are even some Judeo-Spanish love songs hinted at in movements two and three. The declamatory gestures which open the first movement act as a call to arms, with the soloist making a dramatic entry. Interest lies in the undertows created by dance rhythms, Bartókian cross-accents and lyrical episodes, topped off with Mediterranean light adding luminescence. The cello's plaintive utterance in the slow movement confers an elegiac quality to the music. Exotic Mediterranean songs and a cantorial episode lead into a moment of tranquillity in the closing measures. Buoyant rhythms usher in the finale. The mood is festive, and there’s plenty of swagger. The cello's double-stops bring emphasis and intensity. A dreamy episode opens out and Borowicz shows a deft hand at pointing up the dashes of colour from the woodwinds.

Ernest Bloch's Symphony began life as a work for trombone and orchestra in 1954, a commission from Davis Shuman, a professor at Juilliard. In three movements, the structure is a cyclical arc of dynamic extremes. The two outer movements are short, and frame a more substantial central movement. The descending melodic lines of the opener have a doleful character. In the Agitato middle movement, ostinato triplets give the music momentum and thrust, with fanfares, cascades and climaxes adding pizzazz. In the finale, Bloch not only introduces new material, but recalls themes from the preceding movements. Raging turbulence and heavy accents add to the visceral impact. The composer's piano reduction was published in 1956, with the option for cello as protagonist. This is the first recording of the work in this form and, I can assure you, it works very well indeed.

Vidui and Nigun are the first two movements of the Baal Shem Suite of 1923. They were originally for violin and piano. Here they’ve been arranged for cello and orchestra. Vidui is a meditation or wordless prayer of repentance. Nigun, more well-known, means improvisation, where melancholy and ecstasy exist side by side.

As a way of making money, Korngold wasn't averse to recycling music from his film scores, thus preserving the finest and best, in reworkings for orchestra. In the case of the 1946 film score for Deception, starring Bette Davis, we have the thirteen minute Concerto in D in one movement for Cello and Orchestra. Tonally seductive, the work contrasts jagged rhythms with moments of lush nostalgia. Wallfisch captures its very essence with fervid and ardent playing and beautifully sculpted lines.

Similar sentiments imbue his reading of the famous Pierrot's Tanzlied from Die tote Stadt. The glorious melody lends itself well to this treatment.

This latest release reveals yet more riches, and constitutes an excellent addition to this increasingly impressive series. Wallfisch's enthusiasm and commitment to these scores is exemplary. Borowicz is fully attuned to this repertoire and, together with Wallfisch, is an inspiring collaborator. The warmth and ambience of the Cardiff venue add positively to the experience. I must also add that the liner notes, in German and English, are first rate. 

Stephen Greenbank

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