The Ancient Question: A Voyage through Jewish Songs


The grammy-award winning artist Hila Plitmann is known worldwide for her astonishing musicianship, light and beautiful voice, and the ability to perform challenging new works.

On this disc she brings together a very personal programme that draws on her familial roots in Jewish culture and song; from traditional folk music (Five Yiddish Songs), to contemporary compositions (Bridges of Love, Tehilim and I Never Saw Another Butterfly). The disc also features the Five Hebrew Love Songs, with poetry by Plitmann set to music by the composer Eric Whitacre (her husband).

What people are saying

"Plitmann’s selection is carefully chosen for maximum variety ofexpression and instrumentation … Julian Bliss proves a sensitive partner to the charismatic Plitmann." BBC Music Magazine

"Julian Bliss threatens to steal the show on clarinet, but there’s beauty in the voice and enough variety in the works to keep the ears attentive."

Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale

Hila Plitmann soprano
Julian Bliss clarinet
Christopher Glynn piano
Thomas Bowes violin
Andres Kaljuste viola

Release date:5th Dec 2011
Order code:SIGCD276
Barcode: 635212027622

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 buttrerfly drawing on poignant verses written by children incarcerated in Terezin, in which clarinettist Julian Bliss proves a sensitive partner to the charismatic Plitmann. 

Performance and Recording – 4 Stars


BBC Music Magazine, Erik Levi

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."


Opera, Judith Malafronte

The Israeli soprano sings her own arrangement of five Yiddish songs, Lori Laitmann’s setting of some Terezin fragments, a slightly insipid set of Psalms by Aharon Harlap and, most effective of all, five Hebrew love songs by her husband, Eric Whitacre. Julian Bliss threatens to steal the show on clarinet, but there’s beauty in the voice and enough variety in the works to keep the ears attentive. 


La Scena Musicale, Norman Lebrecht

  1. Five Yiddish Songs: i. Di Alte Kasche (The Ancient Question) – Trad. arr. Hila Plitmann – 1.14
  2. Five Yiddish Songs: ii. A Fidler (The Fiddler) – Trad. arr. Hila Plitmann – 1.04
  3. Five Yiddish Songs: iii. Unter A Kleyn Beymele (Under A Small Tree) – Trad. arr. Hila Plitmann – 2.33
  4. Five Yiddish Songs: iv. Du Sollst Nit Geyn (You Shall Go With No Other, Girl!) – Trad. arr. Hila Plitmann – 1.22
  5. Five Yiddish Songs: v. Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds) – Trad. arr. Hila Plitmann – 2.37
  6. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: i. The Butterfly – Lori Laitman – 5.50
  7. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: ii. Yes, That’s the Way Things Are – Lori Laitman – 4.17
  8. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: iii. Birdsong – Lori Laitman – 2.07
  9. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: iv. The Garden – Lori Laitman – 2.20
  10. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: v. Man Proposes, God Disposes – Lori Laitman – 0.40
  11. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: vi. The Old House – Lori Laitman – 3.35
  12. Tehilim (Psalms): i. Psalm 122 “Samakhti Beomrim Li” – Aharon Harlap – 4.22
  13. Tehilim (Psalms): ii. Psalm 113 “Halleluyah” – Aharon Harlap – 2.39
  14. Tehilim (Psalms): iii. Psalm 43 “Shafteni Elohim” – Aharon Harlap – 4.35
  15. Five Hebrew Love Songs: i. Temun? (A picture) – Eric Whitacre – 1.30
  16. Five Hebrew Love Songs: ii. Kal? kal? (Light bride) – Eric Whitacre – 2.50
  17. Five Hebrew Love Songs: iii. L?rov (Mostly) – Eric Whitacre – 0.48
  18. Five Hebrew Love Songs: iv. ?yze sh?leg (What snow!) – Eric Whitacre – 2.09
  19. Five Hebrew Love Songs: v. Rak?t (Tenderness) – Eric Whitacre – 2.15
  20. Bridges of Love: i. For Wherever You Go I Will Go – Sharon Farber – 8.13
  21. Bridges of Love: ii. Once I Knew – Sharon Farber – 7.34
  22. Bridges of Love: iii. Wine of Love – Sharon Farber – 4.15