> BEN-HAIM Piano Music [HC]: Classical Reviews- December 2001 MusicWeb(UK)

One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

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]

Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

Paul Ben-Haim (born Paul Frankenburger) started composing while still living in Germany but all the pieces here were written after he had settled in Palestine in 1933. At that time, too, he changed his name to Ben-Haim after his fatherís Hebrew first name.

The two Piano Suites Op.20, composed in 1933 and 1936 respectively, are among the first works he wrote after settling in Palestine. Actually the Suite No.1 Op.20a was sketched after an exploratory trip to Palestine and completed on his return to Germany. The composerís idea was to write a fairly easy work that could be played by gifted amateurs though the present performance makes it clear that the music is quite demanding though quite accessible. The idiom obviously bears the stamp of Bartok and Prokofiev with the occasional oriental touch. The slow movement actually quotes a Yemeni folk-song. The Suite No.2 Op.20b, completed three years later, goes much along the same lines though it reveals some more complex emotions, such as in the Scherzo, in which one of Mahlerís Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is transformed into a slightly sardonic funeral march.

Five Pieces Op.34, completed in 1943, is another delightful set of short, varied and colourful miniatures of which the beautifully simple Canzonetta is particularly touching.

The Sonatina Op.38 of 1946 clearly has Ravelís own Sonatina as its model. This delightful piece is written in a clear, crisp neo-classical idiom. Contrary to most other pieces here, it has no obvious oriental connection, and the music exudes some light-hearted Gallic freshness redolent of, say, Jacques Ibert. Enjoyable indeed!

The Sonata Op.49 (1954), dedicated to Menahem Pressler, is the most substantial, though not the longest work in this collection. Its three movements are laid-out in a rather unusual way. It opens with a Preamble in sonata form followed by a slow, meditative Fugue and it ends with a lively set of variations on a folk-like tune. A major work on all counts.

Melody and Variations Op.42 (1950) started its life as a short piano piece for beginners. Later, the composer realised that that this simple tune might lend itself to further elaboration. It thus became the starting point for a number of variations whereas the mood of the piece became progressively more complex, but the piece ends with a simple, unadorned restatement of the theme.

Ben-Haimís music is beautifully written for the instrument, at times quite demanding but highly rewarding. Its fairly traditional idiom (i.e. in terms of 20th Century tradition of Bartok, Prokofiev, Ravel or John Ireland) is colourful, tuneful, rhythmically alert and quite accessible.

Gila Goldsteinís superbly assured and dedicated readings of these enjoyable works pay a well-deserved tribute to Israelís foremost composer whose music is still too rarely heard and recorded. I hope that this fine and generous release will kindle some new interest in Ben-Haimís music. Recommended.

Hubert CULOT

See also review by Gary Higginson



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



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



"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."




Scores can be ordered from Israeli Music Institute, Israel, FAX 972-3-524-5276
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

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

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.