Hila Plitmann: "The Ancient Question"
Songs by Laitman, Harlap, Whitacre, Farber and Plitmann. Instrumental ensemble. Texts and translations. Signum Classics SIGCD276
Soprano Hila Plitmann presents "a voyage through Jewish songs" in a well-assembled CD recital, "The Ancient Question." The soprano's commitment to the material is intense — compositions by Plitmann's husband Eric Whitacre and by close friends are featured — and her connections are revealed in personal program notes.
Plitmann's voice has an attractive girlish quality, and she does a lot with its somewhat limited color palette. Tuning and diction are impeccable, and both extremes of range are accessed easily. The strongest musical offering is Lori Laitman's 1996 song cycle I Never Saw Another Butterfly, in which elegant, spare writing for voice and clarinet captures the poetic voices of children imprisoned in the concentration camp at Terezín. Clarinetist Julian Bliss partners Plitmann sensitively, especially in the intertwining duetting phrases of "Birdsong" and the melancholy drones of "The Old House." Plitmann turns quickly from the cheerful, ironic "Yes, That's the Way Things Are" to the harsh taunts of "Man Proposes, God Disposes."
Sharon Farber's 2009 Bridges of Love highlights both the delicacy and the strength of Plitmann's delivery in settings of three songs about non-romantic love — Naomi and Ruth's Old Testament story, "For Wherever You Go I Will Go," Helen Keller's "Once I Knew," and "Wine of Love," by the thirteenth-century mystic, Rumi.
Plitmann's versatility is evident in her confident and attractive arrangements of five Yiddish folk songs that open the disc, and in her own poetry, set by Whitacre in 2001 as Five Hebrew Love Songs.(These slight, schmaltzy pieces serve as attractive filler.) Aharon Harlap's Tehillim, three Psalm settings blending Eastern and Western musical styles, lets Plitmann show range and volume, especially in "Halleluyah."