EAST AND WEST
MALCOLM MILLER applauds
Natasa Sarcevic's performance
of music by Paul Ben-Haim
A vivid impressionistic sound world of East and West regaled a large London audience
recently in the colourful account of the Five Pieces for Piano Op 34
(1943) by Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), one of the founding fathers of music in modern Israel.
The work formed the centrepiece of an impressive piano recital
at St James's Church Piccadilly on
4 April 2003 given by the young, dynamic pianist Natasa Sarcevic, presented by the
Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, the last in their enterprising eight-concert series of
Beethoven and Suppressed Composers, supported by the Jewish Music Institute
with funds from the National Lottery. The series links major works by Beethoven with music by
composers who suffered exile, imprisonment or death under Nazi or Soviet oppression, and earlier
recitals have featured works by Schoenberg, Ullmann, Reizenstein, Goldschmidt, Schnittke and
Schedrin, amongst many others.
Whilst many artists were fortunate to find refuge
from Nazi Germany in America, such as Schoenberg, Kurt Weill
and Korngold, or Britain, including Reizenstein, Egon Wellesz, Hans Gal and Berthold Goldschmidt,
many emigrated to Palestine where they created the musical institutions and styles of the nascent
state of Israel. Paul Ben-Haim is perhaps the best known of the pioneer generation who emigrated
in the 1930s and helped forge a national Israeli style in the early years of the state, exerting
a powerful influence on subsequent generations of Israeli composers.
He was born in Munich as Paul Frankenburger, and after studies at the Munich Academy of Music,
worked as Bruno Walter's assistant at the Bavarian Opera and music director at the Augsburg Opera,
until Hitler's accession to power in 1933 cut short his career and forced him to emigrate to
Palestine. Moving away from European modernism, Ben-Haim espoused the 'Eastern Mediterranean'
style, a distinctive blend of oriental and European elements, influenced by the impressionist
exoticism of Debussy, Ravel and de Falla, and Jewish folklore, both those of Eastern Europe and
of the Yemenite and North African heritage.
Copyright © 8 April 2003
Malcolm Miller, London UK