The idea of an Old Testament Biblical oratorio by a
second-league eighteenth-century German composer may not send all collectors
scurrying to their local record shop, but the more inquisitive will
find much to discover and enjoy in this particular case.
Appreciation of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's music
has been in steady decline since he was an important 'competitor' of
Joseph Haydn from the 1760's to about 1790. The oratorio 'Job' was written
in 1786 for the Vienna Tonkunstler-Societat (another oratorio, 'Esther',
dates from 1773). 'Job' was a success in both the important centres
of Berlin and Vienna. It was later also performed in Breslau during
the composer's lifetime: the booklet notes to the present issue claim
that this was the last performance in Breslau until 1999 when the Rheinische
Kantorei performed it in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Dittersdorf's
The identity of the librettist of 'Job' is unknown,
but it may well have been S. Pintus, a collaborator of Dittersdorf's
from 1771 onwards. The libretto presents a dramatisation of the Old
Testament story in which Job's faith in God is tested by Satan. Job
is stripped of his wealth, offspring, reputation and his own health,
but his faith in his deity remains firm and his reward is to gain twice
what he had lost. Job's wife, Sara, is given a prominant role and provides
the contrasting female voice. The dramatic slant of the oratorio certainly
adds interest to the rather rambling original in the Bible.
Dittersdorf balanced the action of the First Part by
a shift towards the psychological in the Part Two, with Eliphaz and
Bildad returning to try to get Job to admit his sins. Finally, an Angel
appears to clear up the argument and to reward Job for his steadfastness.
'Giob' is not short (about two and a half hours worth
of music) and it is a tribute to both the strength of Ditterdorf's invention
and Max's well-sprung performance that it is fascinating throughout.
Much preparation evidently went in to this recording. Words are consistently
clear from bot soloists and chorus, recitatives (accompanied by an early
piano, not a harpsichord) keep up the dramatic momentum and a fine line-up
of soloists brings the various characters to life.
The orchestral Introduction to Part One establishes
the orchestra's excellence: tempi are well-chosen and enthusiastically
taken up. Das Kleine Konzert, indeed, relish their more challenging
moments throughout. The depiction of a storm in the Recitative and Chorus,
'Sommo Dio che sara?' is visceral in effect.
Much of Part One is operatic in essence: the character
of Zara (Sara) reveals its close blood relation to Mozart's Queen of
the Night in the aria 'Sì, vorrei dall'alma scotere'. Romelia
Lichtenstein is a true soprano who refuses to balk at Dittersdorf's
Markus Schäfer takes the demanding title-role.
He has all the agility the part requires (try his firt aria, 'Tu che
la copia versi'). He is frequently expressive, although there is occaionally
a tendency towards edginess in the timbre ('Nella polve' from Part 2).
The late duet, 'Ah quella man, o sposo', shoes how carefully the soloists
have been chosen as the voices blend perfectly. This delightful duet
between Zara and Giob is one of the highlights of the piece.
Of the remaining soloists, the bass Ekkehard Abele
as Ismaele is outstanding. His aria from Part 1, 'Giorno orrendo,' is
superbly focussed in all registers; in Part 2, the agility of 'E con
novelli modi' is excellently handled.
The alto Beat Duddeck's Elifaz is equally impressive,
although he is not given quite so much to do. His high point comes at
'D'un innocente cor' (Part 2), in which he exhibits clean pitching and
placing of notes. Jörg Waschinski's Baldad is appropriately agile
for his aria, 'Quando ride serene la sorte'; Linda Pedrillo's contribution,
as the Angel of God, is clear and musical.
Max's belief in this piece binds the whole together.
He also has the ability to make somewhat banal musical geatures in some
recitatives sound interesting. A superb achievement all round. CPO's
engineering is exemplary.