Chamber Works by Paul Ben-Haim Reviews
"...brilliant album of rarities..."
John Terauds, MusicalToronto.org
June 24, 2013
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Norman Lebrecht Album of the Week
Norman Lebrecht, SinfiniMusic.com
June 24, 2013
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Jerry Dubins, Fanfare Magazine
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Michael Round, International Record Review
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"Kudos to the ARC Ensemble..."
Daniel Coombs, AudAud.com
July 10, 2013
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"...expertly played by members of the eight-strong ARC Ensemble."
Fionna Maddocks, The Guardian
July 21, 2013
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"The recording is finely balanced, matching these committed and illuminating performances."
Edward Bhesania, The Strad
August 28, 2013
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"vibrant recording, thrillingly performed"
Rick Shultz, JewishJournal.com
September 6, 2013
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Paul Ben-Haim, who was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897, emigrated to Israel in 1933 and died in Tel Aviv in 1984, was one of Israel’s most prolific and influential composers and composition teachers. Trained at Munich's Academy of Music, his musical beginnings belong to a late Romantic category of Brahmsian provenance.
The noteworthy piano quartet op. 4 (1921) harks back to these beginnings; following a performance in 1932, it was only heard again in 2012 thanks to the ARC Ensemble's absolutely immaculate recording. Ben-Haim's methodical, consistent and original expansion of Brahms' idiom, and his simultaneous attempt to leave it behind by integrating as many different types of music as possible into the context of traditional forms, is astonishing. In this way, the music of this piano quartet seems to develop while also leaving an imaginary musical centre, but without shattering or breaking up into disconnected parts. Admittedly, the piece is held together by the intense musical conviction of Canada's ARC ensemble, which mainly plays music by suppressed or politically persecuted composers. Their exemplary commitment is all the more convincing given that the musicians prove to be excellent and stylistically confident soloists who maintain a balance between the accuracy that chamber music requires and the more expansive momentum of a concert.
Also recorded is Ben-Haim's “Improvisation and Dance” op. 30, composed for Zino Francescatti, who also popularized this delightful work. With music such as this, composed by Ben-Haim in Israel, his creative ideas rise to a new level. Hebrew music is among the musical styles he now takes up, which is unobtrusively amalgamated into his compositions.
Ben-Haim’s clarinet quintet op. 31a, is certainly one of his major works; it still recalls Brahms, but its tone is now completely Hebraic, investing the music with a very special atmosphere of melancholy and sad restraint, which in this exquisite recording by the ARC Ensemble – clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas deserves special praise – appears like a cloudy November day. The work deserves to be included in the general repertoire and provides a welcome alternative to the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms.
Giselher Schubert, FonoForum
Concert review: A beautifully performed programme
"The ARC Ensemble arrived from Canada to offer rare repertory at Wigmore Hall [and] gave a beautifully performed programme of chamber works by Jewish composers undermined by Nazism: a ﬂuent Clarinet Sonata by Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a vigorous Piano Quintet on Polish tunes by Szymon Laks, Paul Ben-Haim's big-boned, late-Romantic Piano Quartet in C minor, and, most memorable, an unﬁnished D minor violin sonata movement by the teenage Mendelssohn (Hider had it in for him, too), completed by the pianist David Louie, who played it with Benjamin Bowman. The composer's magical ﬂeetness was in evidence, and other inspirations besides!"
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times (London)
March 17, 2013
Concert review: ARC Ensemble does Toronto present and forgotten European past proud
"If Tuesday’s concert at Mazzoleni Hall was any indication, Sunday’s audience at Wigmore Hall in London is in for a treat from seven members of the ARC Ensemble, the elite squad of professional performers from Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.
They presented an evening of beautiful music gorgeously played."
John Terauds, MusicalToronto.org
March 5, 2013
The Toronto Star
April 26, 2011
An evening of dazzling music by Royal Conservatory teachers
The Royal Conservatory of Music is on a roll. Its performing arts division has, in the two seasons since the opening of the Telus Centre, become one of the city's top concert presenters. Koerner Hall is regarded as one of the world's finest recital halls. (Read more...)
–Reviewed by John Terauds
The Washington Post
November 19, 2010
Pro Musica Hebraica recital at the Terrace Theater
Czech composer Karel Berman survived internments at Auschwitz, Dachau and Theresienstadt, as well as a bout of typhoid and a Nazi death march, before restarting his life and enjoying a half-century of composing and singing leading roles for the Prague National Theatre Opera. But to hear the richly sung and vividly characterized performance that bass Robert Pomakov and pianist Dianne Werner gave Berman's spiky, often playful, Czech-language song-cycle, "Poupata" ("Birds"), at a Pro Musica Hebraica-sponsored recital at the Terrace Theater on Thursday, it's hard to imagine such a life-affirming score was written during the darkest days of the composer's imprisonment.
Likewise, Paul Ben-Haim's confidently projected and faith-affirming Hebrew song-cycle, "Melodies from the East," (its melismatic writing nicely evoking cantorial singing in Pomakov's performance) didn't suggest a piece written at the height of the Holocaust, by a composer who fled the Nazis for a life in pre-Israeli Palestine. Ben-Haim's atmospheric mix of ancient melodies and harmonies with accessibly consonant Neo-Classicism proved attractive, too, in another of his wartime compositions, the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, played with earthy gusto by the Canadian-based ARC Ensemble.
The ARC players gave a reading of febrile intensity to Walter Braunfels's extraordinary F-sharp-minor String Quintet, written during the war while the part-Jewish composer braved Nazi censure to live in internal exile along the Swiss border. This work, unlike the others on the program, revealed the composer's anguish, with an enthralling mix of Straussian tumult, Shostakovich-like bleakness and extreme, Mahlerian mood swings that riveted the audience's attention.
–Reviewed by Joe Banno
May 9, 2010
Two Roads to Exile, Canada
Music by Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels,
The ARC Ensemble
German composers Adolf Busch and Walter Braunfels were linked in life by twin tragic destinies of Nazi persecution that decimated their careers. Now, happily, they are linked aesthetically and effulgently on this new release by RCA Red Seal. Their chamber music is performed exquisitely by ARC, one of Canada’s premier ensembles. Comprised of senior faculty members of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, ARC breathes vibrant new life into these important and long neglected offerings. (Read more...)
–Reviewed by Dr. Robert Tomaro
May 3, 2010
Two Roads to Exile
The ARC Ensemble
The Artists of the Royal Conservatory — a.k.a. ARC Ensemble, made up of some of Toronto’s finest working musicians, who also happen to teach — have been gaining an international reputation for rescuing gems from the dustheap of history. On their latest disc, violinists Marie Bérard and Benjamin Bowman, violists Steven Dann and Carolyn Blackwell, and cellists Bryan Epperson and David Hetherington, work their magic on a 1928 string sextet by Adolf Busch and a 1945 string quintet by fellow German composer Walter Braunfels. Although more or less from the same period, the two works, like the two nearly forgotten composers, are very different. The sextet is more lyrical; the quintet is dense and intense. Both tonal pieces are gorgeously shaped and coloured on this disc, demonstrating how they deserve a new life in the post-serialist 21st century.
March 21, 2010
Music in Exile
What with Nixon in China and Tomas Adès’s astonishing
recital, there’s been a lot of focus on the new and adventurous for classical
music fans in the last two weeks.
Adventures continued Friday afternoon when Toronto’s ARC Ensemble appeared for the Chutzpah! Festival, playing a program of nearly-forgotten composers, each writing in a different Mittel-European voice from exile in Great Britain.
Robert Kahn was an almost exact contemporary of Richard Strauss, whose conservative late-romantic idiom was demonstrated in a lush set of songs, beautifully sung by baritone Peter Barrett, with piano trio.
Matyas Seiber was a neoclassical modernist; his Divertimento for clarinet and strings (supposedly sketched in the 1920s but given final form in the ’50s) has a sort of “Bartok-lite” feeling, but it’s well crafted and effective—and effectively played, with clarinetist Joaquim Valdepeñas in the major role.
The major work of the afternoon was Franz Reizenstein’s Piano Quintet. Conceived in a loquacious Hindemithian mode, the piece may lack charm, but not power: big music in every way, and given a passionate delivery by the Ensemble.
This was an afternoon of discoveries, and the fine playing of the various musician teams was surpassed only by the intrinsic nobility of their mission: to bring work of worthy but overlooked composers to our collective consciousness.
–David Gordon Duke
Right Through the Bone
Music by Julius Röntgen
‘Right through the bone’—that’s how Edvard Grieg described the music of German-Dutch composer Julius Röntgen (1855-1932), a now forgotten figure who counted Liszt and Brahms among his admirers. And the basic soundworld of Röntgen’s music rebounds out of Brahms, with a clear sense of lyricism unfolding through sumptuous chromatic harmonies. But Röntgen’s music also had an ear to the future—the opening Piano Quintet (1921) might be unashamedly Brahmsian but a 1931 String Sextet shows awareness of Schoenberg’s pre-atonal melodic arcs. These are obsessively catchy performances from the ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory of Canada), especially in an oddball Clarinet Trio that’s as quirky as quirky gets.
Evening Standard (London)
January 10, 2007
Weinberg: On the threshold of hope
ARC Ensemble (RCA Red Seal)
Mieczyslaw (Moishe) Weinberg (1919-1996) was the composer closest to Shostakovich, each playing the other his new works before committing them to print. When Weinberg was arrested in the last weeks of Stalin’s terror, Shostakovich wrote to the NKVD chief Beria protesting his innocence. Weinberg, a prolific symphonist, is at his most expressive in chamber works that he imbued with echoes of contemporary Jewish suffering.
His 1945 clarinet sonata, played here by Joaquin Valdepenas and Dianne Werner, is a miniature masterpiece, combining a klezmer-like improvisatory spirit within a strict formal structure. The 1944 piano quintet bears kinship to a prior work in the same form by Shostakovich. Both are melodic, ironic, and disrupted by passages of panicky agitation; Weinberg, however, finds a soft ending.
These revealing performances, by members of The Royal Conservatory of Music, are testimony to a Soviet composer’s courage, ingenuity and, in the clarinet sonata, near-genius.
Music in Exile
Under the heading Music in Exile, the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music presented at Cadogan Hall a weekend of concerts and lectures exploring the world of composers forced in the 1930s to flee from Germany and Austria by the oppressive regime of the Third Reich, many of whom found sanctuary in Britain and the USA.
The final concert on 13 April concluded with Through Roses, a music drama for actor and eight instrumentalists by the contemporary American composer Marc Neikrug that takes its inspiration from the experiences of musicians forced to perform in the concentration camps. Specifically it is based on the recollections of the fictitious violinist and Auschwitz survivor Carl Stern, who worked as a camp gardener and witnessed the fate of his fellow inmates through a rose hedge.
Played by the actor Saul Rubinek, himself born in a refugee camp after World War II, Stern is portrayed as an old man living in a cluttered room in New York, his treasured violin linking him to memories of the past that haunt him, but to which he clings, pathetically. First seen in pyjamas in bed, he gets up, puts on his tail coat and hat, picks up his violin as though setting off to a concert, but thoughts of a concentration-camp life come floating back. Intermittently, he sleeps in his armchair then wakes, to remember the other camp inmates for whom he played, the sick in hospital, the dead, the children, the smoking chimneys, the commandant who appreciated great music, and his wife, who cultivated the garden outside their house, bordered by a hedge of roses. As he drifted in and out of sleep, his words were not always clear and the music took over his recollections with its echoes of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, and others, pieces that he might well have played in the camp, integrated into Neikrug’s own evocative writing. The composer conducted the eight musicians of the English Chamber Orchestra Ensemble, led by Stephanie Gonley, and Saul Rubinek directed his own telling, shambling, moving performance amid the cluster of furniture positioned in front of the musicians. Through Roses is an effective piece of music theatre, composed in 1979-80, premiered in New York, and to date has been performed in 15 countries.
On the Threshold of Hope: Chamber Music
The New York Times
Many European Jewish composers fled west to avoid Nazi persecution, but the Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, who died in 1996, went east. Moves to Minsk, Belarus, in 1939 and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1941 both saved his life (his family in Warsaw was killed in the Holocaust) and resulted in a lifelong friendship with Shostakovich.
Mr. Weinberg’s music, like the chamber works on this new recording, reveals both his Jewish roots and the influence of Shostakovich. This disc, featuring admirable performances by the members of the ARC Ensemble (Artists of The Royal Conservatory, Toronto), takes its title from the brief period of relative freedom enjoyed by Jews in the Soviet Union during World War II. Then Stalin’s anti-Semitic postwar purges squashed hope on the threshold; Mr. Weinberg was arrested in 1953, but Shostakovich intervened on his behalf.
The highlight of this disc is a fiery reading of Mr. Weinberg’s intense five-movement Piano Quintet (Op. 18), written in 1944. It opens with a warmly lyrical melody soon tempered by dissonance and angst. But Mr. Weinberg is playfully satirical where Shostakovich might have been bitterly sardonic. The intense Allegretto offers by turns dense, wild climaxes; spare, staccato textures; and gentle lyricism. The ensuing Presto sounds like café music spun through a carnival funhouse. An introspective Largo leads to the spiky, driven Allegro agitato, with a jagged folk dance and earlier thematic material winding through it.
In the three-movement klezmer-tinged Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (Op. 28), written in 1945, Joaquin Valdepenas plays the virtuoso clarinet part with flair, and the pianist Dianne Werner provides sensitive accompaniment. Also included here are Mr. Weinberg’s “Jewish Songs” (Op. 17), set to Yiddish poems by Shmuel Halkin. The songs, one of which alludes to the 1941 massacre at Babi Yar, are given tender and passionate readings by Richard Margison.
ARC Ensemble performance at Cadogan Hall, London, April 12th and 13th, 2008 with the English Chamber Orchestra Ensemble
It is inevitable that with a retrospective glance to the turbulent years of the 1930s and 1940s, a composer’s music is likely to reflect upheaval and suffering. All four concerts in this weekend entitled Music in Exile depicted traumatic personal loss and displacement in overtly melancholic material that, when grouped together, tended to pall. However, a few works really stood out: Franz Reizenstein’s Piano Quintet op.23 (1948) offers taut invention and well-controlled textures, with a Scherzo that is particularly striking for its moto perpetuo brilliance. Clearly the musical language owes much to his first teacher, Hindemith, but the finale had a poignant personal intensity treated with perceptive artistry by the ARC Ensemble from Canada.
Almost as impressive was Alexander Tansman’s String Sextet, premiered in 1942, which owes much to its dedicatee, Stravinsky. It is frequently complex in its textures, with lyrical sections oscillating with fervent rhythmic figures; the violist Stephanie Gonley was particularly expressive and clear in her direction of the English Chamber Orchestra Ensemble.
Unequivocally the star item was Weinberg’s Piano Quintet (1944). If blindfolded
I’d swear authorship to Shostakovich; at the very least, Weinberg’s great
mentor and friend seems to have had a strong influence on the inspiration. The
ARC Ensemble gave a totally compelling and authoritative reading, particularly
eloquent in the Largo, a threnody to the war dead. Even in the musical language
is derivative, the composition is excellent enough to deserve a permanent place
in the repertoire.
March 30, 2008
EXILES’ RICH REWARD
A Short Music Festival Reveals How Hitler Helped the Jews Thrive
“Hitler was my best friend,” said Walter Cook, of the New York Institute of Arts, in the 1930s. “He shakes the tree and I collect the apples.” Falling to earth almost everywhere outside continental Europe, refugees and emigrés from Nazism became such an integral part of intellectual and cultural life that it is hard to imagine our world without their legacy. But the frequent smoothness of their assimilation into society also makes it easy to forget the trauma of those times. The twin anniversaries of 2008—75 years since Hitler’s rise to power, 70 years since Kristallnacht—are thus a fitting occasion for the kind of musical reflection due in a fortnight’s time at London’s Cadogan Hall, where its Music in Exile weekend offers concerts and lectures devoted to composers persecuted by the Third Reich.
Presented by Toronto’s Artists of The Royal Conservatory ensemble in association with the English Chamber Orchestra, the programmes have been devised by ARC’s founding artistic director, Simon Wynberg. He insists that he is not personally motivated, despite his family’s fate at the hands of the Nazis, and regards this work as only one strand in ARC’s varied activities, but he is well qualified to explore issues of the diaspora. Growing up in Johannesburg, he left South Africa in the 1970s to avoid military conscription and launched his career as a guitarist and scholar from Britain. Before joining The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Wynberg ran the Guelph Spring Festival, one of many institutions founded by Canada’s most productive musical emigré, Nicholas Goldschmidt.
Is there something fitting about Music in Exile coming from such a cosmopolitan city as Toronto? “In a way,” says Weinberg, “though during the war, Canada was notably awful. Between 1933 and 1945, only 5,000 people were allowed into the whole country. It’s only in recent times that Canada has become so welcoming and cosmopolitan. Previously it was very waspish and white. But in doing these programmes over the past 18 months in Toronto, where nowadays there’s that strong Canadian ideal of fairness and equity, I’ve felt that a lot of people have seen it as a way of addressing a wrong.”
Far from wiping out Jewish influence on culture, Hitler ensured that it spread. The uniquely Austro-German musical tradition enriched everyone else immeasurably. “It is an irony that by trying to destroy the Jews, Hitler made their power in the arts much stronger.” But Music in Exile will avoid the biggest names, such as Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Weill. Indeed, it avoids anything really obvious, and opens with a fascinating programme devoted to the non-Jewish German composers who, as Wynberg says, “were friendly with the wrong people” and forced into “internal exile.”
The best-known name here is Walter Braunfels, represented by some songs and his String Quintet, but even he is familiar, mostly because of a ground-breaking recording of his opera Die Vogel in Decca’s seminal Entartete Musik (Degenerate Music) series. Its producer, Michael Haas, is one of several speakers at the weekend, and the list also includes Gottfried Wagner, the outspoken great-grandson of Richard Wagner.
Though America may have lured the most famous names in arts and science, Britain was probably the greatest beneficiary. The Glyndebourne and Edinburgh Festivals could hardly have happened without Rudolph Bing, Carl Ebert, and Fritz Busch. Other musical figures who landed in Britain included Karl Rankl, Egon Wellesz, Walter Goehr, Hans Keller and Peter Stadlen (one-time music critic of The Daily Telegraph). Broaden the field a little, and the list includes Ernst Gombrich, Nikolaus Pevsner, George Weidenfield, Claus Moser, Siegmund Freud, Kurt Schwitters, and Gerard Hoffnung.
So perhaps the “Continental Britons” concert has special interest here, a programme ranging from Robert Kahl, a Brahms acolyte, to Franz Reizenstein, a pupil of Hindemith who went on to study with Vaughan Williams. Even this concert includes two British premieres—a state of affairs that says much about the need for these Music in Exile events.
Julius Röntgen (1855-1932), younger brother of Wilhelm, the scientist who discovered x-rays and won a Nobel Prize in 1901, was a composer out of his time. All four works on this recording date from the last decade of his life, yet there is nothing here (apart, perhaps, from the eerie semitonal clashes that open the Viola Sonata’s third movement) that would have sounded remotely out of place in Brahms’s music of the 1880s. The gentle off-beat piano chords that open the Clarinet Trio continue where the first movement of Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata leaves off, while the pizzicato-accompanied textures of the Sextet’s andante second movement inhabit the same world as the Scherzo from Brahms’s Second Sextet. The effect at times is uncannily as though one were discovering a new piece by the grand master himself.
Yet Röntgen was very much his own man and has the habit of coming up with an idea that once heard is difficult to expunge from the memory—the opening ostinato of the Piano Quintet, for example, with its rocking cello pizzicatos, agitated viola figurations and clouded piano textures, supporting ravishing violin lines of long-breathed purity. Music of this quality cries out for exemplary musicianship, and the ARC Ensemble (musicians from The Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada) sets the skin rippling at every turn with its ear-tingling corporate intonation and magical phrasing, caught to perfection by award-winning producer David Frost. It seems invidious to single out an individual member of this remarkable ensemble for special praise, but violinist Erika Raum, who leads both the quintet and sextet, had me hanging on to her every note. This is a sensational release.