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Jack GOTTLIEB (b. 1930)
Three Candle Blessings (1972) [6.22] (1); Shalom Aleikhem with Candle Blessing (1975) [3.15] (2); Love Songs for Sabbath (excerpts) (1965) [27.28] (3); Set me as a Seal (1991) [3.07] (4); Shout for Joy (1967) [12.29] (5); Psalmistry (excerpts) (1999) [20.25] (6); Y’varekh’kha (1977) [2.47] (7)
Tova Felshuh (reader) (1, 3)
Rachel Gottlieb (soprano) (1)
Cheryl Bensman Rowe (soprano) (2)
Kirsten Chavez (mezzo) (1)
Neil Farrell (tenor) (2)
Karl Dent (tenor) (3)
Cantor Robert Abelson (7)
Carolina Chamber Chorale (1)
The New York Motet Choir (2, 5, 7)
Choir of Texas Tech University (3, 4)
Southern Chorale and Jazz Ensemble, University of Mississippi (6)
Metropolitan Brass Ensemble (2, 5)
Margery Dodds (organ) (1)
Lisa Rogers (percussion) (3)
Sarah Graves (organ) (3)
John Haspel Gilbert (violin) (4)
Clinton Barrick (piano) (4)
Harry Huff (organ) (5)
Timothy Koch (conductor) (1, 6)
Stephen Sturk (conductor) (2, 5, 7)
Kenneth Davies (conductor) (3, 4)
rec. (1) New Fourth Tabernacle Baptist Church, Charleston, NC, May 2001. (Readings recorded May 2002, Clinton Recording Studio, NY); (2) Union Theological Seminary, New York, October 1990; (3) First United Methodist Church, Lubbox, TX, October 1999; (4) First United Methodist Church, Lubbox, TX, October 1999; (5) Union Theological Seminary, New York, October 1990; (6) First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS, April 1999; (7) Union Theological Seminary, New York, October 1990
NAXOS 8.559433 [76.20]

 

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 music.

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.

Gottlieb conflates 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.

Love Songs 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.

Though Gottlieb 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.

The performances 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.

Robert Hugill

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove

 

 



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