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Ben-Haim: Music for Strings

Talia Or (soprano), Bettina Aust (clarinet); Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic/Gabriel Adorján (Avi-music)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Music for Strings; Concerto for Strings; Pastorale variée; Three Songs Without Words
Talia Or (soprano), Bettina Aust (clarinet); Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic/Gabriel Adorján
Avi-music AVI  8553497    60:40 mins

The four works featured in this enterprising release were composed between the mid-1940s and mid-’50s – a period of consolidation for Paul Ben-Haim who had fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and was establishing a new life in Palestine. The tension between the musical styles Ben-Haim had left behind in Western Europe and the Middle Eastern folk elements, which he encountered after his emigration, is keenly felt here. Undoubtedly, the most overtly exotic material is encountered in the Three Songs without Wordsinspired by his long-standing collaboration with the Yemenite singer, Bracha Zefira. These evocative miniatures, sung here with ardent conviction by Talia Or, deserve far wider exposure, and would make an ideal companion piece to Ravel’s much more famous Deux Mélodies Hébraïques.

Equally engaging is the Pastorale Variée for clarinet, harp and strings which effects a satisfying synthesis between Western and exotic musical features through an imaginative use of variation form. This immensely attractive and accessible work also appears on an excellent Chandos release as one of the companion pieces to Ben-Haim’s First Symphony. But the performance from Bettina Aust and the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic is just as fine and is captured in beautifully warm sound.

Framing these works are the neo-classical Concerto for Strings from 1947, which with the exception of the atmospheric slow movement, doesn’t project much individuality, and the more resourceful and texturally varied Music for Strings of 1956. As in the rest of this disc, the Bavarian musicians under Gabriel Adorjan deliver compelling and impressive performances.

Erik Levi