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Milken Archive - Weisgall: T'kiatot, Etc / Schwarz, Et Al

Release Date: 06/15/2004 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559425   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hugo Weisgall
Performer:  Steven A. OvitskyAna Maria MartinezKristen OkerlundPhyllis Bryn-Julson
Conductor:  Gerard SchwarzAvner ItaiJorge Mester
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony OrchestraBBC SingersOrquesta Simfonica de Barcelona i Nacion Catalunya
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Hugo Weisgall, one of the 20th century's most individualistic and creative composers, united an early affinity for the musical aesthetics of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern with a lifelong commitment to and fascination with his Jewish heritage. His symphonic masterpiece, T'kiatot, is based on a central section of the traditional Rosh Hashana service in which the shofar (ram's horn) is sounded three times. The aweinspiring blasts of an actual shofar are set within a richly chromatic orchestral texture to brilliant effect. The song cycle Psalm of the Distant Dove, based on biblical and medieval Hebrew-Spanish poetry, celebrates the mystical, age-old relationship between God and His loving but suffering people Israel, represented by the image of Read more a dove. Also inspired by the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry is A Garden Eastward, one of Weisgall's most rhapsodic vocal and orchestral conceptions, which the composer once called his "most beautiful work."

Full review from Fanfare Magazine:
Hugo Weisgall (1912–97) was born in Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic). He was exposed at an early age to both the liturgical music of the synagogue and to the central classical repertoire by his father, who was both a cantor and a lieder and light opera singer. Weisgall’s formal education took place in America, following the family’s emigration in 1920. He studied at Peabody, then on again and off again with Roger Sessions, and at Curtis with Fritz Reiner. His output is substantial, and comprised largely of vocal and choral works and operas.

T’kiatot: Rituals for Rosh Hashana (1986) is a purely orchestral work, and to all extents and purposes, a three-movement symphony. T’kiaot refers to the first of the three traditional intonations sounded on the shofar, the ritual ram’s horn, during the Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) service. The entire tripartite intonation is executed three times during the central part of the service, each statement corresponding to the titles Weigsall has used to designate the movements of his work: Malkhyuuot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot. While Rituals may be listened to and enjoyed strictly as a piece of abstract instrumental music, it is clearly based on and derived from the three intonations mentioned above, a fact that is nicely underscored by Steven Ovitsky’s contribution on an actual shofar. Weisgall’s style is very much in the tradition of the Second Viennese School, though the affinity is more towards Berg’s warmer, post-Romantic sound world than it is to Schoenberg’s more austere dodecaphonic manner. Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are in top form.

Reverse what I just said, and you’ll have an idea of what Psalm of the Distant Dove (1992) sounds like. The work is comprised of seven numbers, six of which are songs for soprano and piano, and one of which, titled “Elegy, In Memoriam for W. S.” (William Schuman), is for solo piano. The songs are set to texts both sacred and secular, and the style is very much in the manner of Schoenberg in his sparest, atonal mode. Ana Maria Martinez sings her part with technical accomplishment, but the voice itself is not the most beautiful of instruments, and on high notes, her vibrato is a bit wobbly. Kristen Okerlund dispatches the piano part with seeming ease. The Four Choral Etudes (1960) are for SATB a cappella choir, and are settings of well-known Hebrew texts taken from Psalms. Several times, I thought they reminded me of something I’ve heard before, perhaps some of Britten’s unaccompanied choral passages, but I could never quite put my finger on it. They’re quite striking, modern in style, but not dodecaphonic or atonal. The contrapuntal interplay between the voices has an almost madrigal-like quality to it, but clothed in 20th-century garb. Avner Itai directs the BBC Singers.

A Garden Eastward (1952) is the earliest work here, and in it I think one can hear all of the other pieces by Weisgall on this CD in a state of becoming. It’s in three movements, a kind of post Mahlerian song cycle, if you will, for soprano and orchestra, based on texts by Moses Ibn Ezra, sung in English. The soloist this time is Phyllis Bryn-Julson, whose voice I found rather more pleasant to listen to; but then the character of the two vocal works on the program is so different it is not fair to compare the two singers. Jorge Mester conducts the Barcelona Symphony/National Orchestra of Catalonia.


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Works on This Recording

Rituals for Rosh Hashana by Hugo Weisgall
Performer:  Steven A. Ovitsky (Shofar)
Conductor:  Gerard Schwarz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 
Psalm of the Distant Dove by Hugo Weisgall
Performer:  Ana Maria Martinez (Soprano), Kristen Okerlund (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992; USA 
Etudes (4) Choral by Hugo Weisgall
Conductor:  Avner Itai
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960 
A Garden Eastward by Hugo Weisgall
Performer:  Phyllis Bryn-Julson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Jorge Mester
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orquesta Simfonica de Barcelona i Nacion Catalunya
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; USA 

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