Israeli composers are too little known so this album of the music of Paul Ben-Haim is particularly welcome. BIS records is known for its quality recordings and its attention to neglected repertoire. Hopefully this is only the first release and BIS will go on to record more of this man’s work as they have with so many other neglected masters.
Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich. He moved to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1933 as the Nazis took power. He has become known, for better or worse, as the Israeli Aaron Copland. Indeed there are parallels between the two composers in terms of their embrace of mid-twentieth century romanticism and, to some degree, nationalism. He worked as an assistant to Bruno Walter at one point.
A quick glance at Wikipedia will reveal that he mentored many composers including Ben Zion-Orgad, Zvi Avni, Eliahu Inbal, Henri Lazarof, Shulamit Ran, and Ami Maayani among many others. Leonard Bernstein recorded Ben-Haim’s “Sweet Psalmist of Israel” and was supportive of the composer’s work. He was very influential during his lifetime and the neglect of his work is hard to fathom.
Much of Ben-Haim’s work has been recorded to be sure but it tends to get little airplay and few concert performances. As is true for many countries it is difficult to get music by Israeli composers in the United States (Is this true in other countries?). This release from the Swedish based BIS records with its distribution network may be a partial remedy to that problem.
The Violin Concerto of 1960 is the big work here. It has been recorded previously, most notably by the wonderful Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman. It is filled out with his 1942 Evocation “Yizkor” for violin and orchestra and some chamber pieces, the Three Songs Without Words (1951) and Berceuse Sfaradite (1945) both for violin and piano. In addition there is an arrangement for violin and piano of the composer’s well known Toccata (1943) for piano. And in keeping with the violin theme the world premiere recording of his Three Studies (1981) for solo violin rounds out this wonderful survey of the composer’s work.
Itamar Zorman is the soloist and this, not his first release, is a major statement in his career. Zorman previously released a violin and piano album with more conventional repertoire but this is his first release playing with an orchestra. Having demonstrated his facility with the conventional repertoire he seems to be blazing a path beyond.
The album opens with the highly romantic Evocation “Yizkor” (1942) reflecting the composer’s style as developed in his native Germany. The disc basically follows the order of composition except for the last two tracks. This gives some sense of the composer’s evolution over his substantial career and the album includes the composer’s last work.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is ably conducted by Philippe Bach in the Evocation and the Concerto and Amy Yang is the very busy accompanist in the violin and piano pieces. Mr. Zorman himself contributed the lucid liner notes.
Having just reviewed another fine album which included a Ben-Haim piece it was particularly delightful to receive this recording. It brings this important music to a new generation of listeners. Also toward that goal the following link will take the interested reader to a comprehensive list of the the recordings of this composer’s work. The link is here.