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First ‘Voices in the Wilderness’ heard loud and clear

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
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Voices in the Wilderness: Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish composers
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Cello Concerto in F; Gál: Cello Concerto in B minor
Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Nicholas Milton
CPO 555 074-2

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This is the first instalment in a fascinating series subtitled ‘Voices in the Wilderness’ which brings together cello concertos by composers of Jewish origin who were exiled as a result of anti-Semitic policies in 1930s Europe. Here Raphael Wallfisch couples the world premiere recording of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cello Concerto of 1935, composed and dedicated to Wallfisch’s teacher Gregor Piatigorsky, with Hans Gál’s Concerto dating from 1944.

As pointed out in Michael Haas’s admirably detailed booklet notes, although neither of these two composers was professionally close to each other, they shared similar musical values, maintaining a strong adherence to tonality and placing the greatest emphasis on melody.

Of the two works, the Castelnuovo-Tedesco is much more virtuosic and extrovert, with lots of technically demanding passagework. The orchestration, too, is luxuriant with some occasional flourishes that sound uncannily close to Hollywood, though Castelnuovo-Tedesco was only to write film music after settling in the US some three years after this composition was first performed. Of its three movements, the central Andante, with its lilting rhythms and ethereal sonorities featuring celesta and tuned percussion, makes the strongest impression, whereas the Finale at times loses direction.

In contrast, Hans Gál keeps a much tighter rein on the structural flow of ideas, and his orchestral textures are leaner. His Concerto, born out of personal tragedy of internment on the Isle of Man and the suicide of his son, is largely elegiac and introspective, the opening theme achieving an especially poignant simplicity. Once again, it’s the Finale that seems less inspired than the rest of the work, though Wallfisch and the sumptuously recorded Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Nicholas Milton remain firmly persuasive advocates of both concertos.

Read more reviews of the latest Castelnuovo-Tedesco recordings

Read more reviews of the latest Gál recordings

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Erik Levi