ARC Ensemble

Music in Exile: Chamber Works by Paul Ben-Haim

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The Chandos label's Music in Exile series takes note of the centrality of exile in the lives of musicians of the 20th century. Paul Ben-Haim, born Paul Frankenburger in Germany, certainly fills the bill, having fled Nazi rule in 1933 and settled in what was then British Palestine. He later became a major figure in the Israeli classical music scene, and his music gradually took on a more Jewish or generally Middle Eastern character. The first piece on this program, the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 4, was written while Ben-Haim was still in Germany and had no thought of leaving, shows no traces of this process and is probably the strongest work on the program. It is a chamber work in the idiom of Richard Strauss, with broad heroic themes almost immediately dissolving into extreme chromatic complications. It's a stirring youthful work with which chamber groups would do well to familiarize themselves. The rest of the program shows Ben-Haim struggling to merge this German language in which he was educated with what might be termed nationalist elements, to which the style itself was not very friendly. The culmination of the effort was the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 31a, which Ben-Haim wrote in 1941 and revised in 1965. Given the slow process exhibited in the three shorter works, it would be interesting to have learned more about these revisions in the booklet. This is a unique work that's as interesting as the Piano Quartet: it makes all the Brahmsian moves, and it is not a Jewish work in the style of Bloch, but its melodic material is ultimately strongly marked by non-Western sources. Canada's ARC Ensemble plays with absolute commitment and great competence in unfamiliar repertory. Strongly recommended, and not only for those whose interests lie specifically in the realm of Jewish music.

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