Ben-Haim • Bloch • Korngold
Ben-Haim: Cello Concerto; Bloch: Symphony for Cello & Orchestra; Baal Shem-Suite – Vidui & Nigun; Korngold: Concerto in D in one movement; Die tote Stadt – Tanzlied des Pierrot
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Lukasz Borowicz
CPO 555 273-2 67.34 mins
Raphael Wallfisch’s valuable series of cello concertos by exiled Jewish composers has uncovered a number of works that have not to my knowledge been recorded before. This current release is no exception, featuring world premiere recordings of German-born Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim’s Cello Concerto of 1962 and Ernest Bloch’s Symphony for cello and orchestra composed in 1954, the solo part having originally been conceived for trombone. Unfortunately, neither work strikes me as a major discovery. The Ben-Haim is undoubtedly expertly scored and couched in an accessible style that hovers between harmonically acerbic neo-classical energy, stomping Bartókian dance rhythms and a more luxuriously orchestrated quasi-Oriental expressiveness. Wallfisch plays the solo part with total commitment, and the warmly recorded BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Lukas Borowicz offers sterling support. Yet for all its technical fluency, Ben-Haim’s work requires more striking motifs to really engage the listener.
In stark contrast, the second half of the disc includes repertory that combines emotional immediacy with structural lucidity. Bloch’s ‘Vidui’ and ‘Nigun’ from the Baal-Shem Suite may be better known as violin pieces, but they work fabulously well on the cello. Even better, however, is Korngold’s one-movement Cello Concerto drawn from the score he wrote for the film Deception. It’s a gripping musical experience, benefiting from top-drawer thematic ideas and a real sense of direction.