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Dave BRUBECK (b.1920)
The Gates of Justice (1969)
Dave Brubeck Trio
Kevin Deas (bass-baritone)
Cantor Alberto Mizrahi
Baltimore Choral Arts Society/Russell Gloyd
Rec. Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, Baltimore in March 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.559414 [50:13]

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This is a further release in the Naxos series from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music (see link below to reviews of previous releases). Dave Brubeck is best known as a jazz pianist but considers himself “a composer who plays the piano”. After the Second World War he studied composition with Darius Milhaud and, during the 1960s, he wrote his first orchestral and choral compositions. The Gates of Justice was written soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, at a time when relations between American blacks and Jews were strained. Brubeck’s aim was to bring them together and he based the words of this cantata, which are sung in English, on diverse sources, including Hebrew texts and the speeches of Martin Luther King.

Musically, the work is also an interesting collage of contrasting styles – Hebraic modes sung by the cantor tenor, negro spirituals sung by the baritone and chorus, and jazz episodes including an improvisation for piano. Brubeck’s synthesis of these is convincing and never jars. There are twelve sections, the longest of which “Open the gates” is the core of the work. In this section both soloists and the chorus sing imploringly before Brubeck’s Trio (with Michael Moore on double bass and Randy Jones on drums) takes over. Throughout the work the Trio largely takes the place of an orchestral accompaniment although the brass section of the orchestra of Baltimore Choral Arts Society also plays an important part. Both the soloists are excellent and the singing of Kevin Deas is particularly memorable in “When I behold the heavens”. The work concludes climactically with three linked sections: “The Lord is good”, “His truth is a shield” (based on Luther King) and “Oh, come let us sing a new song”. Brubeck certainly rises to these challenges and achieves a convincing peroration. This is powerful and approachable music performed with considerable commitment under the direction of Russell Gloyd. The recorded sound is well-balanced and of high quality throughout.

The presentation of this budget-price disc deserves special mention – it is superb and would put most full-price issues in the shade. In a 24-page booklet, the composer’s original program note is part of detailed documentation about the work and performers. This includes full texts and sources, and is also generous with photographs.

The recording was made in 2001 immediately following a concert performance. It is not claimed to be a première but I haven’t been able to find any evidence that the work has been set down previously. That seems to matter little because it is hard to imagine a more definitive performance than the one on this disc. If, as I sense it may have been, this work had languished unperformed for some years, then its time seems to have arrived. Highly recommended.

Patrick C Waller 

Link to previous reviews in this series:



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