The Ancient Question

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Laitman; Whitacre; Harlap & Faber
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: The Ancient Question
WORKS: Five Yiddish Songs; Laitman: I Never Saw Another Butterfly; Whitacre: Five Hebrew Love Songs; plus: works by Harlap & Farber
PERFORMER: Hila Plitmann (soprano), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Christopher Glynn (piano), Thomas Bowes (violin), Andres Kaljuste (viola)


Although this warmly recorded release opens with some resourceful arrangements of traditional Yiddish Songs for voice, clarinet and piano, the main focus of Hila Plitmann’s recital is on new music inspired by Jewish themes. Apart from her husband, Eric Whitacre, who contributes a set of Five Hebrew Love Songs, none of the composers are widely known. Yet Plitmann’s selection is carefully chosen for maximum variety of expression
and instrumentation.

All the featured composers write in a highly accessible style retaining a strong adherence to tonality and eschewing idiosyncratic vocal and instrumental effects. Whitacre achieves a disarming memorability with the simplest of means, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his cycle, scored for soprano, violin and piano, gains considerable popularity. Israeli Aharon Harlap’s Tehillim has a rhapsodic grandeur that is strongly reminiscent of Bloch while fellow Israeli composer Sharon Farber’s Bridges of Love, conceived on a more extended scale, is not quite so distinctive even though it’s performed here with great emotion.

Arguably the most memorable and moving music comes in the final song of Lori Laitman’s cycle I never saw another butterfly drawing on poignant verses written by children incarcerated in Terezín, in which clarinettist Julian Bliss proves a sensitive partner to the charismatic Plitmann.


Erik Levi