Voice in the Wilderness: music as salvation

Wallfisch BBC

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch ©BBC

Music can save your life. Literally. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch has survived Auschwitz. And also Bergen Belsen. She knows for sure that music was the cause of this. She was 16 when she was arrested. Her parents were already dead, but she didn’t know that yet.


Young Anita played the cello and once in Auschwitz she was deployed in the Women’s Orchestra, which was conducted by Alma Rosé, Gustav Mahler’s niece. After the war she came to London, married pianist Peter Wallfisch and was a co-founder of the English Chamber Orchestra.

Her son, Raphael, is also a cellist. A famous one too, with many recordings to his name. And his son, Benjamin, is a conductor. Father and son Wallfisch made a recording together, which they dedicated to their relatives who were killed in the camps. The CD was released just before Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2014.

wallfisch nimbus

It has become a surprising CD, because besides Bloch’s almost inevitable Schelomo also his rarely played Voice in the Wilderness is included and Ravel’s Kaddish follows André Caplet’s Epiphanie (d’après une légende éthiopienne). The latter escapes me a bit, it feels like the odd one out. I have to admit that I have no affinity with the work whatsoever. It just ripples on.

Instead I would have preferred to hear Baal-Shem by Bloch. Or something from Joseph Achron. Or Alexander Krein. Or the other two Mélodies hébraiques by Ravel. And even if I prefer the sung version of ‘Kaddish’ (can I make a recommendation? Gerard Souzay!) I have to admit that Raphael Wallfisch with his cello stole my heart. But the most beautiful thing is the orchestra. Soft. Dear. Loving.

Raphael Wallfisch discusses his Jewish music release:


Wallfisch Bloch

I am often asked if there is such a thing as Jewish music ….. Well, there certainly is! Just take Ernest Bloch. He was born in 1880 in Geneva in an assimilated family. Around the age of twentyfive he became interested in everything to do with Judaism and translated it into his language – music. “I’m interested in the Jewish soul” he wrote to Edmund Fleg, cantor and librettist of his opera Macbeth. “I want to translate all this into music.”

He developed a very personal style: his compositions reflect the atmosphere of Hebrew chant, without actually being a literal imitation of it. His intention was not to reconstruct old Hebrew music, but to write his own, good music, because, as he said, he was not an archaeologist. He succeeded.

Ernest Bloch – Voice in the Wilderness; Schelomo. Rhapsody hébraïque
André Caplet – Epiphany (d’après une légende éthiopienne)
Maurice Ravel – Mélodie hébraïque, Kaddish
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch
Nimbus NI 5913

Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

In Dutch:
Muziek als redding. Voice in the Wilderness


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