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Arthur KAPP (1878-1952)
Hiob - Oratorio for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra (1929-31) [75.37]
libretto after the Bible in a version by Julius Kaljuve in an edition by Vardo Rumessen
Taimo Toomast (bar) - Job
Urve Tauts (mezzo) - Job's wife
Mart Mikk (bass) - Satan
Mati Palm (bass) - God
Ines Maidre (organ)
Estonian National Male Voice Choir
Estonian Oratorio Choir
Estonian Children's Choir
choral directors: Ants Soots; Venno Laul
Estonian State Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Rec: concert recording 16 Aug 1997, Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia, DDD
ERES CD 21 [76.03]

This is the world premiere of Arthur Kapp's two-part oratorio Job. It is here wonderfully presented in 32 tracks.

Kapp was born in the small Estonian town of Suure-Jaani. He studied in St Petersburg with Rimsky-Korsakov. After spending some time in Moscow and Astrakhan he returned to Estonia where he occupied various senior musical positions in the National Theatre. His most significant works apart from Hiob are the Symphony No. 1 in F minor (1924), Organ Concerto No. 1 (1934) and symphonic poem Fate (1939). He is not to be confused with Eduard Kapp or Willem Kapp. The latter's optimistic Soviet-style Second Symphony was recorded a couple of years ago on a BBC Music Magazine cover-mount CD.

It may be helpful to place this work in the context of other works on the then world stage. Let's look at the period 1929 to 1931 spanning the years in which Kapp completed the oratorio up to its premiere. 1929 was the year of Roussel's Third Symphony, Miaskovsky's triptych (Serenade, Sinfonietta and Lyric Concertino), Randall Thompson's Symphony No. 1, Lambert's Rio Grande. 1930 brought forth Vaughan Williams' own Job - a masque for dancing, Smyth's choral symphony The Prison, Havergal Brian's Second Symphony, Frank Bridge's Oration, Bax's Winter Legends, Bliss's Morning Heroes and Hanson's Second Symphony. 1931: Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony, Brian's Third Symphony, Bridge's Phantasm and Szymanowski's Fourth Symphony.

Kapp's oratorio is more monumental than jazzy; in fact not jazzy at all; more old-fashioned than revolutionary. This is a bardic Job with one foot in the gentian blue fields of Estonia and another in Borodin's Polovtsi palanquins.

It starts as a pastoral idyll - gently rocking to a harp ostinato. This theme is to dominate in various variants much of the work's music e.g. the Angel's chorus (tr.28). This is not at all colossal ... intimate rather. When the men's voices join (tr.2) the recollection is of Borodin's more contented Polovtsian moments. The upward and downwards surge of the orchestra may remind some listeners of the diaphanous filigree of Bax's Garden of Fand.

Interesting landmarks include the very Tchaikovskian wind chords at the start of tr. 4 sounding as if they have escaped from Romeo and Juliet. The Devil (tr.5) has the infernal flames suggested by the woodwind. The darting theme also has something of the sea in it. Tracks 6 and 7 can sound jolly - a bit like a Nordic Stanford. The choir always has a big sound and widespread concert perspective across the soundstage. There is no lack of majesty (tr. 7 1.48) with the burnished brass calling out portentously.

A viciously punched-out 'Dies Irae' recalls the Old Testament blood-fury of Havergal Brian's Das Siegeslied (Symphony No. 4) and The City Arming from Bliss's Morning Heroes (both contemporary works). The Sei getruss (tr.12) is tenderly Brahmsian (alles fleisch) mixed with the more reticent moments in Howard Hanson's Lament for Beowulf.

Kapp writes music with nationalistic vitality and plenty of rhythmic fibre and humanity - the plaintive writing for voice in tr. 26 bears this out. It is not at all modernistic. The reference points are Taneiev, Brahms, Sibelius (Kullervo) and Klami (Psalmus). This is not as original or as loveably impressive a work as Tobias's Jonah Sendung (on Bis) - another major choral-orchestral piece edited by Rumessen and conducted by Järvi. However it is far from inconsequential. It is sung with guts, bite and fire in the belly. This is a blazing performance which touches on the exalted writing in Verdi's Requiem and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

This is a white-hot performance which the occasional dropped score, paper rustle or cough does nothing to alloy. It streams with a self-renewing life force and with a severe fugal reverence related in the finale to the vocal flames of Beethoven's Choral Symphony. This is a live concert performance as the cough at the start of tr. 8 testifies. The blazing singing of the finale brings the dazzling epiphany of the pastoral prelude now dressed in burnished and brazen magnificence - an impressive symphonic consummation that transcends a few nodding moments during the early stages of Part 2.

Rob Barnett

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