Here we have a superb survey of Ben-Haim's chamber music played by the flawless ARC Ensemble
of Canada and recorded with Chandos sound-it doesn't get much better than this :)
The Piano Quartet, composed in 1921 by the young Paul Frankenburger (birth name) while still in Munich, is in a sense the next piano quartet Brahms would have written had he lived another 24 years. Everything about the piece-the gestural language, the melodic material, the thematic development, and the piano patterns and figurations-evokes the spirit of Brahms, except for one thing. The harmonic context, with its somewhat more liberal application of dissonance, parallelism, and freer approach to progression, suggests that Ben-Haim had received some exposure to Faure, Debussy, Ravel, and, according to the note, Richard Strauss and Max Reger. Nonetheless, for all its youthful susceptibility to the musical influences that would have been part of Frankenburger's German world, his Piano Quartet is a masterful and powerful work, at times turbulent and tragic, and at other times meltingly poignant. In three large movements, it's a big, late romantic work of nearly 30 minutes' duration. The performance is nothing short of magnificent. Written when Ben-Haim was just 24 years old, this early work really should be in the standard piano quartet repertoire.
By the time Ben-Haim came to compose the Two Landscapes for viola and piano, respectively titled "The Hills of Judea" and "The Spring", in 1939, he'd been living in Israel for six years, and his style had already radically changed as a result of adapting to his surroundings and embracing his Jewish culture. We now hear in these two short musical sketches the familiar sounds of nomads in the desert and the exoticisms we tend to associate with the Hebraic melos.
The "Improvisation and Dance" was also composed in 1939. The Improvisation movement, marked Molto rubato, is free-flowing and sorrowful in feeling, evoking perhaps a camel caravan wending its way across the desert dunes. The Dance movement, is an animated, spirited, strongly accented rhythmic piece that sounds like a bunch of riled-up Klezmorim going after a marauding mob of Bartok's Rumanian peasants.
In 1944, Ben-Haim composed a set of five piano miniatures, published as "Five Pieces for Piano", Op. 34. Here we get but one of the pieces from the group, No. 4, titled "Canzonetta". The style Ben-Haim adopts for these pieces is best characterized as Impressionistic.
Originally written in 1941, the Clarinet Quintet was revised in 1965, and Ben-Haim rescored its last movement, a set of variations, for clarinet, harp, and string orchestra, assigning it the same opus number, but with a "b" appended. Like the Piano Quintet that opens the disc, the Clarinet Quintet is a large three-movement work lasting over 27 minutes, but unlike the much earlier Quartet, the Quintet is in a dissonant, occasionally (almost) atonal language that's more difficult to penetrate in just one or two hearings. But the score's romantic impulses do break through to the surface now and then, reminding us once again of Ben-Haim's musical roots.