Melody and Variations, Op.42
Suite No.1, Op.20a
Suite No.2, Op.20b
Five Pieces, Op.34
Gila Goldstein (piano)
CENTAUR CRC 2506
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|The Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984 he was born in Munich as Paul Frankenburger) is not a familiar name in the UK. His long career dates from the early 1920s when he graduated from the Munich Academy as a pianist and conductor. In the early 1970s a car accident made compositional activities more difficult. His catalogue includes large-scale orchestral works, cantatas and oratorios, as well as much chamber and instrumental music.
A great deal of Ben-Haims music, though rarely directly quoting traditional Jewish elements, is imbued with the feeling of cantillation and middle-eastern peasant music. In the piano pieces recorded here, these influences can be felt alongside the sometimes-overpowering ghosts of Bartok and Prokofiev the finale of Suite No.1, for example, is a somewhat uncomfortably close cousin of Bartoks Allegro Barbaro. Indeed the informative booklet notes, written by Jehoash Hirshberg, go to some considerable lengths to link Ben-Haims soundworld to other composers Ravel in the Sonatina for example and, generally, to Chopinesque and Debussyian figurations.
Therein lies the problem. There is certainly nothing in the least bit disagreeable about Ben-Haims music; indeed, much of it is very enjoyable. Its just that one gets the feeling to having heard it all before. Listening to this CD in a single sitting, its all too easy to becomes aware of the pattern: fast movements are brittle,
neo-classical toccatas with the occasional Hindemithian fugue included for good measure while slow movements have gradual chord progressions under flowing arabesques. Most of the movements are very short; even the Sonata (dedicated to Menahem Pressler incidentally) lasts under fourteen minutes.
I am surprised not to have heard of Gila Goldstein before. She is clearly a pianist of considerable technique and virtuosity, and is easily up to the substantial demands that some of this music makes. That she is such a very fine player makes me wish I didnt feel I was sitting on the fence about the music. Theres nothing to dislike, but for all Ben-Haims attractive ideas, theres little that I am likely to rush back to. That said, for anyone curious, this CD is warmly recommended.