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Paul BEN-HAIM (1897-1984)
The Piano Works of Paul Ben-Haim

Suite No. 1 Op. 20a (1933); Suite No. 2 Op. 20b (1936); Five Pieces Op. 34 (1943); Sonatina Op. 38 (1946)
"Melody with Variations" Op. 42 (1950); Sonata Op. 49 (1954)

Gila Goldstein Ė piano
Recorded at Patrych Sound Studios, New York, January- February 2000
CENTAUR CRC 2506 [76.26]


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Paul Ben-Haim received a conventional European musical upbringing. He was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich where his father was a lawyer. He studied piano and composition at the Munich Academy and was a renowned conductor. By 1931 he was able to devote himself increasingly to composition. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 he settled in Palestine and took the Hebraic name of Ben-Haim. It was perhaps through working as arranger and accompanist for Braha Zephira, a singer of Yemeni descent, that he became quickly attracted to oriental music, particularly the folk music of Palestine and Yemen, though he himself was at pains to point out "I donít actually take melodies. I invent them. It is now my language influenced by my surroundings." When listening to the Finale of the 2nd Symphony and the Piano Concerto, you might be entitled to think otherwise.

In his booklet notes Jehoash Hirshberg comments that Ben Haim's work is "part of a contemporary effort to synthesize Eastern and Western traditions. His music reflects the diversity of the landscape and people of Israel but is deeply rooted in western tradition Ö. he wanted to express a new Jewish nationalism yet maintain the great heritage of the West."

Ben-Haim is now recognized as Israelís greatest pedagogue and has influenced the whole region, both through his teaching in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and his performances as pianist and composer. He was a deeply religious man and often took inspiration form the bible.

I have listed the works in chronological order as the booklet does but Centaur ordered the pieces on the disc so as to make a through-recital creating contrasts of forms and speed. I am not sure that any new listener would take in all seventy-six minutes at a single sitting.

I will briefly discuss the works in the order in which they were written.

The First Piano Suite has four movements and is the least original work here but still attractive and highly coloured. J. S. Bach was favourite composer of Ben-Haim's; the opening Allgero is a Bach-like Toccata ending in a completely out-of-place perfect cadence! The ensuing Tempo di Marcia recalls Prokofiev; the slow movement a touch of dreamy Debussy the last perhaps apes Bartókís Allegro barbaro.

The Second Suite was Ben-Haimís first composition in his new home and begins and ends with a Pastorale with its implication for an admiration for life on a Kibbutz. The Scherzo uses a theme from Mahlerís 'Die zwei blauen Augení from ĎLieder eines Fahrenden Gesellení, which is grotesquely transformed, the composer waving an unsentimental farewell to German culture.

The 'Five Piecesí also begin with a Pastorale, a variation of the opening movement of the second suite. There are four other movements displaying the composerís newly found eclecticism, for example a Ravelian Toccata reminiscent of the one in ĎLe Tombeau de Couperiní. Modal and pentatonic scales influenced by Jewish folk songs are used in the ĎIntermezzoí.

The Sonatina is in three movements. The opening movement achieves a balanced sonata form but with modally inspired melodies.

Moving to the 'Melody with Variationsí one is struck by an almost neo-classical theme. It becomes obvious that this theme is also folk-song influenced. The Variations help to emphasize this very point, with their modality and simple harmony. The piece develops into a virtuoso display.

Ben-Haim was a fine pianist (as is Ms Goldstein) and he writes brilliantly at times for his instrument. With the Piano Sonata we find a brilliant opening entitled ĎPreambleí, which leads into a fugue with its emphasise on Bachian mordants. A set of Variations end the sonata with their earthy Bartókian heavy peasant-like pounding chords. It also includes a passage which deploys the free melismatic cantilena that one associates with the synagogue.

The recording quality is mixed. There is a good sense of space and the bass of the instrument is most realistically represented but the brash treble writing found in most of the works is very brittle, harsh and has a disagreeable echo.

The booklet notes are extremely helpful though a little technical and written with real understanding by Hirshberg who is also the author of the only book on the composer, Paul Ben-Haim: his life and works (Jerusalem 1990 - now OOP)

Gary Higginson

AVAILABILITY

The disc can be purchased from Centaur Records, no. CRC 2506, www.centaurrecords.com and from Amazon.com. They charge $15.

UK distributor is Complete Record Company. 207-498 9666

 

BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE AND BACKGROUND

Paul Ben-Haim

The prolific composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) was born in Munich as Paul Frankenburger. Having served during World War I, Paul graduated in 1920 from Munich Academy of Music as a pianist, composer (under Klose) and conductor. Following his graduation he was appointed to be the assistant conductor of the Munich Opera House. In 1924 he became Kapellmeister of Augsburg Opera. From an early age he composed many Lieder, and in the 1920s and early 1930s he turned to chamber, choral, and orchestral works. His friendship with Jewish composer Heinrich Schalit encouraged him to compose a set of choral motet and Psalms on biblical texts. In 1931 the new Nazi director of the Augsburg Opera terminated Ben-Haimís contract. He still completed his large scale oratorio Yoram, and after Hitlerís rise to power he decided to emigrate to Palestine, then under British rule, where he settled in November 1933. There he was soon joined by about forty professional composers who left Europe between 1931 and 1938 as refugees. The immigrant composers worked under internal conviction and external ideological pressure to create a new national style. They were expected to absorb and express the influence of the East as a visionary dream of new Jewish nationalism, yet at the same time maintain the great heritage of the West which dominated musical life in the young Jewish community.

Soon after his arrival Frankenburger changed his name to Ben-Haim (=Haimís son, after his fatherís Hebrew first name). He limited his activity as conductor and dedicated himself to teaching and to intensive creative activity. Ben-Haim was a late romantic that shunned avant-garde trends. While highly diverse in his technique, he always based his writing on flowing melody and rich modal harmony. His idol was Bach, and his direct sources of influence were Debussy and Ravel, Richard Strauss, and Mahler, but he strongly absorbed influences from his adopted country. For about fifteen years he collaborated as pianist and composer with the great Yemenite singer, Bracha Zefira, for whom he composed 35 instrumental arrangements to songs of Jewish ethnic communities originating in the Middle-East. Ben-Haim quoted many of the melodies he learned from Zefira in his larger instrumental works, such as the Finale of the Piano Concerto.

Soon after World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel Ben-Haim reached international reputation. Both the Israel and the New-York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein performed his orchestral works in the U.S., and his works were performed by many international conductors and soloists, such as Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Zino Francescatti, Leopold Stokowski, Menachem Pressler, Zvi Zeitlin, Uzi Wiesel, and many others. In 1957 he won the Israel Prize. In 1972 he was invited to Munich for a festive concert commemorating his 75th birthday. While crossing the street there he was hit by a car and remained half-paralyzed for the rest of his life, though he continued a limited compositional activity after that.

Paul Ben-Haim passed away on January 14, 1984 and is buried in Jerusalem.

Much of Ben-Haimís music in general and piano music in particular is marked by the cantilation and pastoral mood of Middle Eastern peasant music, together with the rhythms of such dances like the Israeli "Hora" and the Yemenite traditional dances. His piano music is also highly recognized by the elements of toccata, "perpetuo mobile" and improvisation. Ben-Haim regarded his work as part of that widespread contemporary effort to synthesize Eastern and Western tradition. His music reflects the diversity of the landscape and the people in Israel.

Ben-Haimís prolific output includes two symphonies and other large scale orchestral works, concerti, cantatas and oratorios, Hebrew art songs, arrangements of traditional tunes, and many chamber and solo instrumental works.

Paul Ben-Haim can definitely be considered as one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century, especially among national composers of non-European countries.

© Professor Jehoash Hirshberg, from Jerusalem who wrote Ben-Haim biography in 1990

_________________________________________

GILA GOLDSTEIN ON BEN-HAIM

"Paul Ben-Haim was, in my opinion, one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century, especially among composers who represent a small, non-European country; Israel in Ben-Haimís case.

"Although he achieved some international recognition, it wasnít to the degree that he deserved. Not only was Paul Ben-Haim a very modest man by nature, he also created his music in a country that was and is constantly dealing with difficult issues of existence Ė a fact that sometimes diminishes focus on certain cultural matters. Until now there has been no CD that brings to an audience a collection of pieces by one Israeli composer, and in one genre Ė in this case, the important genre of piano music. As we all know, the piano literature is substantial, one of the largest among all genres, and very popular. Pianists and listeners all over the world are constantly looking for some new, quality material that they have never heard before. I found it very significant to record and document these pieces, to show the uniqueness of that specific style of composition conceived in Israel (including before 1948 when it was still Palestine) by the European immigrants who left one tough reality and had to adjust to another Ė unusual and not easy.

"Ben-Haim was the leading person among these composers. He was a master in the way he combined his European musical heritage with a new, original middle-eastern type of sound, and therefore becoming one of the leading Israeli composers. Many consider him THE national composer of Israel. But whatís important is that it wasnít artificial work. It was an individual style more than just an Israeli style, and thatís why he should be evaluated in relation to all of the 20th-centuryís composers. Ben-Haim has a language of his own, which is very distinctive.

"In addition to the greatness of the composer, this music means to me my heritage and background, both personal and musical. I can identify with Paul Ben-Haim since we both represent artists who didnít travel the easy road Ö as well as both being outsiders in our own country (he left Germany for Israel, I left Israel for the USA). Among my teachers in Israel were students of Ben-Haim or musicians who knew him in person; unfortunately, I never met him. I thought the making of this CD would mark an important contribution that will make a difference."

www.gilagoldstein.com


AVAILABILITY OF SCORES

 

Scores can be ordered from Israeli Music Institute, Israel, FAX 972-3- 681-6070.
E-mail: musicinst@bezeqint.net http://www.aquanet.co.il/vip/imi/index1.htm


Also from Theodore Presser, Pennsylvania, USA. FAX (610) 527-7841
Scores for 5 pieces op. 34 and Nocturne from Suite no. 2 op. 20b can be ordered
from "NEGEN", Tel- Aviv, Mrs. Schreiber, FAX 972-3-691-3308

THE MUSIC OF PAUL BEN-HAIM ON CD
1. Piano Works of Paul Ben-Haim, Centaur #2506, 2001
2. Darkness and Light, volume 1 (#157, 1995) Albany
3. Darkness and Light, volume 2 (# 229, 1997) Albany
4. Itzhak Perlman, Encores, EMI 1988 #49514
5. Itzhak Perlman, Encores vol. 2, EMI, 2000 #56957
6. Itzhak Perlman, Violin Concerto, Sony
7. Michael Guttman, with London Phil./David Shalon, Violin Concerto, ASV 1998 #1038
8. The Cantorial Sound of the Cello, Dorian 1995 #90208
9. Masters of Jewish Music, Hungaroton, no. 31768, 1999
10. Poulenc, De Falla, Bloch, Ben-Haim, Koechlin Koch Discover International - #920463 1997,
11. Visions, Albany 1998 #283
12. Laughter and Tears, Centaur, 2001, #2521
13. String Quartet op. 21, Amernet Quartet, no label, available on Amazon, 2000
14. Sacred Service/Songs of Songs/Sweet Psalmist of Israel, (L. Bernstein) SONY, 1992 #47533
15. Vocal Jewels from Israel, Centaur, #2324
16. Great Artists perform music from Israel label: Gallo, #530, 1995 can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, www.bn.com (include a song cycle and the famous Solo Violin sonata with Menuhin).

17. There is a further CD including the Symphony No. 1 on the Jerusalem label but this CD was deleted some years ago.

18. Variations on Hebrew Melody for Piano Trio, Garcia Trio, Caprice label (Sweden) # 21348

See also review by Hubert Culot


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