Review from : Scherzo (Spain)
by Santiago Martin Bermudez
Cristics Estract from Scherzo (Spain), by Santiago Martin Bermudez
Israeli Festival Ben Haim: Songs and other Works; Soprano: Varda Kotler; piano: Jeff Cohen; cello: Philip Barry The Israeli, who bestows this Israeli festival to us is Paul Ben Haim, a composer who was born in Munich in 1897. His original name was Paul Frankenburger. This family name belongs to German Jews, people who regarded themselves as German, with much culture and the like. This family, like many other Jewish families, presented an example for German patriotism during the Great War, and in this case even sacrificed a son, the elder brother of Paul. We currently know that it did not help them at all, not even after demonstrating a degree of chauvinism, as Jews thought it would benefit with them, Jews who are no longer with us, such as Schönberg (as similar views were entertained by Christians like Weber).
Ben Haim was quickly to devote himself to the lied (he admired Strauss and Debussy), as here we experience examples of his early works: the Hofmannsthal Lieder (1915) the Christian Morgenstern Lied (1920) and the Japanese Spring of Hans Bethge (1922). The appearance of the Nazi regime urged him to leave his country. He did not flee to France, which was about to become a death trap for Jews, nor did he travel to the United States, the promised land. He chose to immigrate to British Palestine of the Zionist movement, that new city with a secular tendency, that lies on the Mediterranean shore, which is Tel Aviv. In this place, he changed his name and decided to stay.
The fracture and crisis with anything that was German was brutal and painful, but it could not have been any way differently. Acceptance of Jewish values were conceived as a good and joyful matter, and the cultural level of the Jewish and Israeli essence is significant. Ben Haim changes the German lied into an absolute Jewish lied. After all, it was unavoidable that he will add a tune or two to the words of Haim Nachman Bialik or to those of the poet Rachel, the biblical work of Song of Songs or Yehuda Halevi, the medieval Jewish poet. However, all of that emerges from solid, fertile and rich contexts, stemming from mutual work with his new countrymen, such as the singer Bracha Tsfira, a Yemenite origin artist, whose repertoire included many works that were founded on the Spanish Jewish tradition, in the language of the Ladino (your attention is drawn to the Canciones, Romanzas without words). The songs of the recital draw away from German characteristics, as this beautiful recital demonstrates a beautiful poetic music, that comes very close to our heart, even if we are not conscious of it.
In the middle of the recital, we enjoy the Three Cello Movement (1977), a work that was dedicated by Ben Haim to the Israeli cellist, Uzi Wizel, who played his cello concerto for the first time already in 1963. His cello music contains no poetry or at least not too much of it and the connection to Bach is no longer denied. Here, the dance is inspired by Philip Barry (kindly note the final penetrating lento) giving a rest to the vocal repertoire and excellent and rich voice of the Israeli soprano, Varda Kotler.
The singer, in addition to being an expert of vocal recitals, has already portrayed the roles of Cherubino and Rosina on stage, amongst other operatic roles. Varda has a great command of the lied, whether in Hebrew or in German, but her versatility and acting ability enriches the enjoyment of the magical pages that present the song without words, the Canciones. She is accompanied on the piano by the American composer Jeff Cohen, an expert and a virtuous, and both of them command this recital, turning it into a rare opportunity in its marvel to advertise the repertoire of this composer, who lived during from 1897 until 1984. Barry also plays in the Japanese work of Bethge, together with Varda and Cohen. In conclusion: beauty, joyful and festivity.
>>> back to Varda Kotler sings CD Paul Ben-Haim