Jack Gottlieb studied
at Queens College, New York with Karl Rathaus, and at Brandeis
University, with Irving Fine. It was whilst at Brandeis
that Gottlieb became influenced by the music of Stravinsky and
Copland. Gottlieb went on to work with Copland and with Boris
Blacher at Tanglewood. Though he started out writing works that
embraced a variety of media and subjects, he has always been
attracted to music that reflects the Jewish experience. He worked
as music director of Temple Israel, in St. Louis, one of the
major Reform congregations in the USA and during the 1970s was
professor of Sacred Music at the Hebrew Union College. His musical
activities have also run in other directions: from 1958 to 1966
he was Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic. Later
he went on to become publications director for Bernstein’s Amberson
Enterprises. He is recognised as a leading authority on Bernstein’s
The ceremony from
which the text for the Three Candle Blessings
is taken is performed at home at sunset; it is one of the
few Jewish prayers to be specifically designated for women -
who light the candles in the ceremony. Gottlieb’s three movements
reflect this as the major musical material is taken by soprano
and alto solos. Even so a significant section of the text is
read by the speaker. Gottlieb makes the mix between sung and
spoken very effective, though the speaker, Tovah Feldshuh, is
recorded quite closely and speaks rather intimately. This effect
is lovely, but I did wonder how the works would fare in the
concert hall. Gottlieb’s language in these pieces is dignified
and accessible without being simplistic, just what is needed.
two similar texts for the Shalom Aleikhem with Candle
Blessing. Shalom Aleikhem belongs to the category
of Sabbath table songs, sung just before the blessing of the
Candles so Gottlieb’s conflation of the texts is most appropriate.
The work is similar in style to the Three Candle Blessings
and utilises a speaker.
for Sabbath was written at the instigation of
David Putterman, Hazzan at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New
York. Putterman commissioned liturgical music from a number
of distinguished composers such as Bernstein, David Diamond,
Roy Harris, Morton Gould, Darius Milhaud, Kurt Weill, Lukas
Foss and Paul Ben-Haim. Gottlieb’s work Love Songs for
Sabbath is a setting of the Friday evening service.
The work is substantial and Gottlieb comments in his programme
notes that it required extra rehearsal time and is too complex
for everyday use.
refers to Copland and Stravinsky as his influences in this work
the sound-world is closer to the Bernstein of the Chichester
Psalms. For the vocal lines, Gottlieb writes music that
is tuneful and melodic; it is only in his accompaniment that
the later twentieth century creeps in.
Set me as
a Seal comes from Gottlieb’s complete setting
of ‘The Song of Solomon’, a substantial work that has not been
produced in its entirety. This short excerpt seems to be a fine
reflection of Gottlieb’s serious composing style.
The two subsequent,
more substantial, pieces reflect the lighter element in Gottlieb’s
music. Shout for Joy was written for choir,
brass ensemble and organ and designed to be suitable for Church
or Synagogue use. Their tunefulness reflects elements of the
type of music common in Evangelical Christian services; I’m
not sure it is what I want to hear on disc. The same is true
of Psalmistry written for choir and jazz
ensemble. This work has its origins in a work that Gottlieb
wrote in 1971 entitled Family Torah Service. He
completely re-wrote the piece and it became Psalmistry.
The work evidently includes fragments of traditional chant but
for me the dominating style is melodic and tuneful. Though shortened,
I’m afraid the piece rather outstayed its welcome. Also, though
sung in English, I did wonder whether it was originally written
in Hebrew as the setting of the text seemed at times clumsy.
The disc concludes
with another lovely short prayer Y’varekh’kha, where
we retrieve the style of music that I think Gottlieb does best;
sober, considered but still melodic.
on the disc are a little varied, not surprisingly since the
recordings took place over a 12-year period. No performance
is less than adequate but I felt that the Southern Chorale could
have done more justice to Psalmistry.
This is one of those
discs that are really for interested parties only. Much of the
repertoire will be of relevance to those involved in, or with
an interest in, Jewish music. I am not sure that the casual
listener will necessarily derive much satisfaction from listening
to the entire disc though the opening and closing tracks deserve
to be better known.
see also Review
by Glyn Pursglove