Ben-Haim, Bloch, Korngold: Cello Concertos (CPO)
Jewish composers write violin concertos first, piano second. All other instruments are also-rans.
Credit, then to Raphael Wallfisch for dusting off cello concertos by three Jews — the German-born Israeli Paul Ben-Haim, the Austrian-born film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the Swiss-born American Ernest Bloch.
Ben-Haim, in his 1962 Cello Concerto, performs his usual fusion act of west and east sonorities — though, on this occasion, not with Yemenite and Palestinian roots so much as Ladino-Balkan, and all the more mellifluous for it. The adagio is especially compelling.
Bloch’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra (1954) and his earlier Baal Shem Suite (1923) never caught on in the manner of his 1915 Hebrew Rhapsody Schelomo, and it’s clear from this hearing that some bits of the score simply don’t hang together.
Korngold’s concerto, on the other hand, deserves a proper showcase. Based on the score of the Bette Davis film Deception, the cello plays voyeur in a tug-of-war love triangle while the orchestra drives up the tension towards an ultimate denouement. Premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Leonard Slatkin’s mother, Eleanor, as soloist, the concerto got trashed by European critics and never got its due. Now might be the moment. Wallfisch plays with apt theatricality and the BBC national orchestra of Wales get really stuck in for the underrated Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz. This whole disc is a real find.
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