Friday, March 05, 2010

Chance music from Jewish voices


‘Israel’s first lady of song’ was the accolade bestowed on Naomi Shemer (1930-2004), who is seen above. Several of her songs have became popular anthems in her homeland and she created Hebrew versions of many well-known songs including the Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it Be’. Her best-known composition is 'Yerushalayim shel zahav' ('Jerusalem of Gold') which has achieved the status of unofficial Israeli national anthem.

Jerusalem of Gold is the opening track in a Jewish Voices programme I am presenting in my webcast Chance Music series. It is performed by the Israeli singer and guitarist Hezy Levy and is coupled with another Naomi Shemer composition, Song of the Grasses. Both tracks are taken from the Ad Vitam CD Singing Like the Jordan River which featured here last year.


The central work in my Jewish Voices programme is by the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, seen in the photo above. He was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897 and worked as assistant to the Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch at the Bavarian State Opera. Following the establishment of the Third Reich in 1933 he left Germany for Palestine where he went on to become a leading figure in twentieth-century Israeli music.

The more progressive trends of late twentieth-century music passed Paul Ben-Haim by. He was influenced by the neo-classicism, of Stravinsky but there are also echoes of the late-Romantics in his compositions. I am presenting his 38 minute setting of the Jewish Friday Evening Service, the Kabbalat Shabbat. It dates from 1966, is scored for cantor, soprano, choir and nine instruments, and is very moving despite not totally meeting with the approval of the contemporary music thought-police. Audio samples can be heard here.

Excerpts from Paul Ben-Haim's Kabbalat Shabbat have been available on a Naxos disc for some time. But I am presenting a new complete recording released by the German NEOS label with baritone Christian Miedl as cantor, Valérie Condoluci singing the soprano role and the Chamber Choir and Orchestra of the Jakobsplatz Munich conducted by Daniel Grossmann. The couplings on the NEOS disc are Ben-Haim's Lift up your Heads for soprano and eight instruments, his 1951 Sonata in G for solo violin composed for Yehudi Menuhin, and his Three Songs Without Words for viola and piano. All captured in excellent sound, with all the works recorded by NEOS in Stephanus Kirche, Munich in 2009 except for the Violin Sonata which dates from Bayerischer Rundfunk sessions in 1972.


My concluding Jewish Voices are the Ensemble Trielen and German soprano Jutta Carstensen, seen above, performing a Yiddish song and Klezmer music, again from a recent release on the adventurous Ad Vitam label. Jewish Voices is an hour of rarely heard music that deserves to reach a wider audience. What is particularly notable is that all the music comes from two relatively new independent European labels. I have already written about Ad Vitam but NEOS may be unfamiliar to many readers. As well as jazz and mainstream classical discs NEOS' outstanding contemporary catalogue includes beautifully presented CDs of music by John Cage, Mauricio Kagel, Jonathan Harvey, Bruno Maderna, Wolfgang Rihm and others. Which is all a long way from Naomi Shemer, Ensemble Trielen and Paul Ben-Haim. But stop worrying about which box the music fits into, it is all about exploring outside the comfort zone.

* Jewish Voices was broadcast/webcast on Future Radio at 3.00pm UK time on Sunday March 7, 2010. Listen to a podcast of the programme here.

* All CDs were purchased by me. I saw the NEOS Paul Ben-Haim disc in FNAC in Lille but baulked at the Euro price. Surprisingly amazon.co.uk do not seem to stock the disc. But no problem, Presto Classical supplied it from the UK with genuine next day delivery.

Chance Music is a 'quick and dirty' radio format created to share music featured On an Overgrown Path with readers. Many thanks to Future Radio for their continuing support. Future Radio is UK government Ofcom regulated and party to a Performing Rights Society royalty agreement. Podcasts of programmes available here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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