This fascinating album may be the personal project of the Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman, but the first enticing sound we hear belongs to the beautiful solo horn sorrowing over the orchestra, beckoning us into the beguiling world of Paul Ben-Haim’s 1942 Evocation. A peach of a work, reflective but troubled, it’s the earliest piece in this rewarding collection of works by the composer who was born Paul Frankenberger in Munich, but altered his name and musical focus after emigrating in 1933 to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine.
Over time the conservative Classicist with a Romantic sweep embraced more and more of the Eastern European and Mediterranean folk music all around him. Eventually a fused language emerged, delightfully found in the eloquent, moving violin-and-piano Songs Without Words, and most of the 1960 Violin Concerto and the late Three Studies for solo violin, the kind of work Bach might have written had he been Mediterranean and Jewish.
Zorman retraces Ben-Haim’s musical journey with plenty of technical panache, passion and colour. He’s well supported by conductor Philippe Bach and, in the chamber pieces, Amy Yang’s characterful piano: the pair’s Berceuse Sfaradite, based on a Sephardic folk song, is a particularly sweet plum.
The recording, made at the Cardiff home of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, can’t quite shake off the customary dry BBC studio sound, but the orchestra’s playing is typically alert and with Ben-Haim’s emotional music, building bridges between East and West, the temperature is always rising.