Enlighten Israeli Trios Meridian CDE84669

Menachem Avidom (1908-1995)
Trilogue for Piano Trio (1985)
Artur Gelbrun (1913-1985)
Trio for Violin, Cello & Piano (1977)
Hanoch Jacoby (1909-1990)
Theme, Variations and Finale (1942)
Sergiu Natra (1924-2021)
Trio in One Movement No 2 (2001)
Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984)
Variations on a Hebrew Melody
Ben-Haim Trio (Guy Figer (violin), Yotam Baruch (cello), Ron Trachtman (piano))
rec. 2022, Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv, Israel
Meridian CDE 84669 [70]

The opening lines of the anonymous booklet notes (from which I will quote amply, with thanks) say that this album ‘presents music written by Israeli composers, most of whom belong to the first generation of concert composers who came to Mandatory Palestine’.

Menachem Avidom was born in Stanislaviv (now Ivano-Frankivsk), but lived and died in Tel Aviv. We hear his Trilogue for Piano Trio, in a single movement of just under eight minutes. It begins and ends slowly and thoughtfully, but has a dance-like central section. The language is an original mixture of a long, lyrical traditionally inspired melody and a tone row, creating warm harmonies and memorable textures. It comes from what the booklet calls the composer’s final stylistic period.

Artur Gelbrun’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano is in a classical three-movement structure. Each is prefixed by a tone row on which the movement is freely based. There is a rather spiky Vigoroso in sonata form, then a beautiful Adagietto – which, as the composer says, is ‘essentially a series of lyrical variations on the main melody’ (row) – and a Rondo finale with quieter, more reflective episodes. Gelbrun was born in Warsaw, lived for a while in Switzerland and moved to Israel in 1949. As a consequence, his international style does not engage with a nationalistic musical language.

Hanoch Jacoby, born in Germany, settled in Palestine before the war and soon became integrated into the musical life there. He was a member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. A pupil of Hindemith, he became inspired by Israeli musical culture, hence a mixture of influences. The Theme, Variations and Finale, a fine and constantly interesting work, shows the emotional scars typical of its 1942 date. The booklet says that the form of the work went through a few alterations. There are thirteen variations, and the last few form the finale. The mood moves quickly between deep sadness, insecurity and a dance-like cautious happiness.

Sergiu Natra, born in Bratislava, came with his artist wife to Tel Aviv in 1961. He lived there for the rest of his long life and became well established. The Piano Trio No 2 is a fine work in one movement. It starts, as the booklet describes it, introspectively with a broken set of repeated chords. These develop into a fuller counterpoint and then into a piercing Allegro. The opening music returns before the end but with some subtle changes and a rather desolate feeling of loss. Natra’s language is based on a type of chromatic modality, which creates constant interest and surprises.

The last work on the disc, and perhaps the most significant, is Paul Ben-Haim’s Variations on a Hebrew Melody. Paul Frankenburger, born in Munich, left Germany in 1933, made his home in Palestine and changed his name. He became a major influence on Israeli music. The theme here is an Arab melody whose title translates as ‘My homeland, the land of Canaan’. After a mysterious introduction setting a deliberate mood of uncertainty and heightened emotion, Ben-Haim constructs six contrasting variations, including a war-like ‘alla marcia’. The last one is very calm, spacious and nostalgic, and uses ideas from the introduction. Not surprisingly, this piece has become one of the composer’s best known works.

As far as I am aware, these works are new to CD, so I will not attempt a comparison. In any case, it seems unlikely to me that these performances could be bettered. The three fine musicians demonstrate deep sympathy and understanding, and appear to grasp the full implications of the pieces by composers fortunate enough to escape the Nazis.

The booklet has a brief biography of each composer, useful for people little known in the West. A detailed description of each work is followed by more information about the composer and his output. We also have the performers’ biographies. The recording felt a little boxy at times, but at others the stereo spacing was impressive and clear.

Gary Higginson


Since the review was published, we have been advised that the author of the notes in the booklet are by Prof. Dr. Michael Wolpe of the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance

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