This is Volume 1 in a new chamber series which explores the music of composers who were forced to flee Europe during the 1930s. The survey begins with works by the German-born Jewish composer Paul Ben-Haim (né Frankenburger) who immigrated to Palestine in October 1933. Ben-Haim was an accomplished pianist, conductor, choral coach, and composer who made a significant cultural contribution to his adoptive country. The list of musicians who commissioned, performed, and recorded his music includes Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Menahem Pressler, and Leonard Bernstein. Among the Israeli composers he taught are Eliahu Inbal, Avraham Sternklar, Noam Sheriff, and Shulamit Ran.
Following the extremely successful Dvorák string quartets set (SU 3815-2), the internationally renowned Panocha Quartet – celebrating this year its incredible 40th anniversary of performing in the original line-up – plays the main role in this set too. The four CDs comprise piano quartets and quintets, string quintets and a string sextet. In terms of Dvorák’s oeuvre, this selection virtually spans his entire creative lifetime, from the composition the author designated with the opus number 1 (String Quintet in A minor, B 7) to pieces from the composer’s late period.
The earliest piece on this disc is the delightful Pastorale, written in 1907, when Stravinsky was 25; the latest is the enigmatic Epitaphium, written 52 years later. In between come a clutch of pieces from that fascinating period of Stravinsky’s life when he was moving from Russianism to neo-classicism via jazz. The remaining two, the Octet of 1923 and the Septet of 1953, are both firmly in Stravinsky’s witty, poised neo-classical style, though the Septet is moving towards new, tougher territory. Stravinsky himself made classic recordings of these pieces in the Sixties, now reissued on CD on the Sony label. These are always electric, if sometimes a little untidy, and so closely recorded you feel the players are sitting in your lap. By that lofty benchmark this new recording measures up superbly. Tempos are just as brisk and alert as Stravinsky’s, the accents just as incisive. These qualities are combined with a beautiful soft-grained tone – a nice change from Stravinsky’s lemon-sharp sound.
2014 marks the centenary of Polish-British composer Andrzej Panufnik. Here the Brodsky Quartet joins in this year of reminiscence and celebration with Messages, a recording of works both by Andrzej and his daughter Roxanna Panufnik. String sextets begin and end the disc. In the first, Modlitwa, both father and daughter have composed sections, Roxana Panufnik having contributed to what was originally a vocal work and subsequently made this sextet arrangement. Andrzej Panufnik’s Song to the Virgin Mary also began life in a vocal setting, for a cappella chorus, and was dedicated to his wife, Camilla.
"… it’s music that we can never know well enough, especially in revelatory performances like these. The playing thrives on a close, intense and uncannily natural ambience (all except the violin sonatas were recorded in the Lutheran Church of Saint Catherine, St. Petersburg, Russia). Philip Borg-Wheeler’s liner notes make absorbing reading." ~audiophile-audition