“Clarinet Quintets” = PAUL BEN-HAIM: Quintet for clarinet and string quartet, op.31a; MENACHEM ZUR: Quintet for clarinet and string quartet; BEN-ZION ORGAD: Filigrees No.1 for clarinet and string quartet – Eli Heifetz, clar./Ora Shiran, Carmela Leiman, violins/Michael Kugel, viola/Felix Nemirovski, c. – CDI Records MII-CD-15, 57:29 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Clarinetists have a pretty extensive list of wonderful music to choose from for their instrument and strings. The quintet repertoire is anchored by such very well known works as those by Mozart, Brahms and Weber. Many composers over the years have correctly realized the natural beauty and timbral symbiosis that exists between the clarinet and strings. These fascinating works from Israeli composers deserve to be played more often; if not in the “standard” rep.
Of the three works here, the one most likely familiar is the Ben-Haim. It is the one that most immediately sounds “Jewish” or at least outside the typical western tradition. Paul Ben-Haim is a composer who adopted his culture and religion after being raised away from it in Germany just before the war. Much of his music sounds very sacred and folk-like; this one being no exception. There are some direct quotes from both local folk music as well as a religious hymn, “God of My Righteousness.” Structurally, this quintet is interesting in that after a very model and complex first movement, followed by a driving scherzo, the composer closes with a theme and variations. The theme in the closing movement is very beautiful and Sephardic in nature. This movement, itself, was expanded by Ben-Haim into his Pastoral Varieé for clarinet, harp and strings. Both the present Quintet and the Pastoral Varieé, op. 31b, hold a special place for me; as I have had the good fortune to have played them both twice over the years.
Until this recording, I was much less familiar with the quintets of Menachem Zur and Ben-Zion Orgad. Menachem Zur is a native of Tel Aviv and presently serves as the Chairman of the Israel Composers’ League. He did study in America at Mannes College and Columbia University, before returning to Israel. His Quintet is decidedly more angular and virtuosic than the Ben-Haim. Interestingly, the piece was written for the present performer, Eli Heifetz, and was written in recognition of the “Brahmsian textures” that the composer explored while writing this Quintet. Largely atonal, but very interesting to listen to, the work derives almost all its subsequent material from the extended clarinet opening. This work is a solid addition to the contemporary clarinet repertoire and fits many different niches; not the most significant of which is that is “Israeli” in origin.
Stylistically, Ben-Zion Orgad’s Filigrees No.1 fits somewhere in between the previous two works. Orgad is German-born and actually studied theory and composition with Paul Ben-Haim. His works have been played throughout Europe and Israel and he served for quite some time in the Ministry of Education and Culture in Israel. The composer wrote a set of “Filigrees” for various instrumental chamber groups and combinations. The present quintet draws directly upon the folk material of the Tetuan region of Spanish Morocco. The music contains ample modal and rhythmic touches that conjure up the potpourri of cultures; Muslim, Hebrew and Christian, that the greater area contains. Specifically, the composer cites the use of some melodic snippets that are typically found in a Judeo-Spanish wedding ceremony as source material. I found this work to be very stimulating and another that should be played more often.
All of these quintets are very fine works. Clarinetist Eli Heifetz is a very fine performer, as are his string colleagues. This CD was first released in Israel in 1994 and I have actually heard it before. If this is your first exposure to any of these pieces, I imagine you would enjoy it; especially the Ben-Haim. For clarinetists, this is a serious find.