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Herman D KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Moses Op. 76 (1963-64)
Elisabeth Meyer-Topsøe (sop)
Kirsten Dolberg (mezzo)
Kurt Westi (ten)
Michael Kristensen (ten)
Per Høyer (bar)
Christian Christiansen (bass)
Danish National Radio Choir/Jesper Grove Jørgensen
Danish National Radio SO/Owain Arwel Hughes
rec 1-2 Mar 1996, Danish Radio Concert Hall DDD
DACAPO 8.224046


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When the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940 Koppel, a Jew, immediately evacuated to Sweden. The post-War return to his native land coupled with the unfolding of the true nature and extent of the horrors perpetrated on the Jews and many other peoples drove Koppel back to the Old Testament. Three works, all from 1949, resulted: Three Psalms of David for tenor, choirs and orchestra and two song cycles - Five Biblical Songs and Four Love Songs from the Canticles of Solomon.

Moses was of the same stream though much longer in gestation. It is contemporary with Britten's War Requiem, Holmboe's Nietzsche Requiem, Franz Reizenstein’s Genesis and Peter Racine Fricker's A Vision of Judgement. Foreboding, cruelty and vengeance are to the fore. The notes to this CD refer to an indebtedness to Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and I would not disagree.

It will not surprise you that Koppel’s descriptions of hellish apocalypse also have the quality of Franz Schmidt's choral writing for The Book with Seven Seals though the tonality is strained. The music also put me in mind of Wilfred Josephs’ music for The Great War. Listen to the grim desolation of a pocked and cratered landscape. The evocative track 9 (‘the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a fire’) induces a frisson. Track 4 is descriptive of the Creation and the Fall and is charged with foreboding. This is a work in which you will look for tenderness and reassurance in vain.

The present recording represents the work's second performance; the first having taken place on 21 October 1965. That premiere was conducted by Miltiades Caridis and again Kurt Westi was the tenor. Anders Koppel reminds us in his extensive notes that just after Moses the composer wrote a further oratorio, Requiem, with texts from Old and New Testaments. This time he used German attempting to reach a form of reconciliation with the language then so freshly associated with invasion, repression and pogrom.

Moses is laid out in two main parts. Each is sub-divided into three episodes thus:

Part I

1. The Creation, The Fall

2. The Trial of Abraham by God

3. Songs of the Israelites and Moses to the Lord, the Stone Tables, the Golden Calf

Part II

4. Lament of the Israelites in the Desert, Prophecy of the Promised Land

5. The Curse and the Blessing of Moses

6. The Song of Moses, the Praise of the Lord after the Funeral Music, Hallelujah

After so much stony lamentation and wretched violence the ascent towards jubilation is a steep one and charted only in the last two tracks. When we reach it this is the jubilation of a people who have had to teach themselves joy and whose natural bent is towards grief. Even their alleluias (unlike those in Hilding Rosenberg's Symphony No 4 Johannes Uppenbarelse) are laden with the cargoes of dismal grief and violence. At the end we seem to look out on some devastated. The stricken death bells of Holst's Saturn seem to be a parallel but without the panic.

The booklet is in Danish, English and German and the libretto (drawn from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Exodus and Genesis) is laid out in typically exemplary fashion with sung text side by side with translations. The CD is laid out in 23 tracks which makes navigation and study extremely easy.

Rob Barnett

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