This installment of Raphael Wallfisch’s innovative series features three very different composers. “Cello Concertos by Jewish Composers in Exile” is in its fourth volume. All three composers were Jewish, and all were forced from their homes. But not every work on this album is a concerto (sort of).
The outlier is Ernest Bloch, represented by some transformed works. Included are two movements the Baal Shem Suite. Originally written for violin and piano, It’s heard here in orchestration for cello and orchestra, and work quite well in this version.
His major work is the Symphony for Violoncello and Orchestra. This 1954 work (symphony, not concerto) was composed for solo trombone and orchestra. The piano reduction noted the solo part could be played by either trombone or cello. And so we have the version on this release.
The Symphony (not concerto) is a wonderful work. Although he didn’t count it as one of his Jewish works (such as Schlomo), there’s no escaping one’s roots. The melodies, particularly as played by Wallfisch have echoes from Jewish musical culture.
Paul Ben-Haim was one of the early immigrants to Britsh Mandate Palestine (later Israel). His work is strongly influenced by Eastern Mediterranian music. Those influences are easy to hear in his 1972 Cello Concerto.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold fled Austria ahead of the Nazis. He found a new life (and career) in America, transitioning from composing concert music to film scores. But he never completely left classical music, nor his Viennese roots behind.
His Cello Concerto in C major recycles themes from his score for “Deception.” A cellist and a composer are opposite points of a love triangle (with a pianist!). Part of the drama involves a concerto the composer has written for the cellist, snippets of which are heard in the movie.
Korngold takes his movie cues and develops them into an organic if compact, whole. The thirteen-minute concerto never completely shakes its Hollywood origins. Because Wallfisch takes the music seriously, though, those traces recede in the background.
Overall, Raphael Wallfisch delivers some beautiful performances. He adapts his playing to the character of the music. For Bloch’s music, he plays with a rich, rounded tone, while in the Korngold his cello seems to have a steely edge to it.
This release is a diverse collection of composers and styles. But it’s unified in the quality of the playing, both by Wallfisch and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Paul Ben-Haim; Ernest Bloch; Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Cello Concertos
Cello Concertos from Exile, Vol. 4
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Lukasz Borowicz, conductor
CPO 555 273–2