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Jack GOTTLIEB (b.1930)
Three Candle Blessings a (1972) [6:22]
Shalom Aleikhem with Candle Blessing b (1975) [3:15]
Love Songs for Sabbath c (excerpts) (1965) [27:28]
Set Me As a Seal d (1991) [3:07]
Shout for Joy e (1967) [12:29]
Psalmistry f (excerpts) (rev. 1999) (20:35)
Y'varekh'kha g (1977) [2:47]
a Tovah Feldshuh (reader), Rachel Gottlieb (soprano), Kirsten Chavez (mezzo-soprano), Carolina Chamber Chorale, Margery Dodds (organ) conducted by Timothy Koch. Recorded May 2002, Clinton Recording Studio, New York.
b Cheryl Bensman Rowe (soprano), Neil Farrell (tenor), Kirsten Chavez (mezzo-soprano), The New York Motet Choir , Metropolitan Brass Ensemble conducted by Stephen Sturk. Recorded October 1990,  Union Theological Seminary, New York.
c Tovah Feldshuh (reader), Karl Dent (tenor), Lisa Rogers (percussion), Sarah Graves (organ),
Choir of Texas Tech University conducted by Kenneth Davis. Music recorded October 1999, First United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas; reading recorded May 2002, Clinton recording Studio, New York.
d  John Haspel Gilbert (violin), Clinton Barrick (piano), Choir of Texas Tech University conducted by Kenneth Davis. Recorded October 1999, First United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas
e The New York Motet Choir, Metropolitan Brass Ensemble, Harry Huff (organ) conducted by Stephen Sturk. Recorded October 1990, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
f The Southern Chorale and Jazz Ensemble, University of Southern Mississippi conducted by Timothy Koch. Recorded April 1999, First Presbyterian Church, Hattisburg, Mississippi.
g Cantor Robert Abelson, The New York Motet Choir conducted by Stephen Sturk. Recorded  October 1990, Union Theological Seminary, New York.
NAXOS 8.559433 [76:20]

There is a sense in which Jack Gottlieb is a quintessentially American composer. His upbringing and education exposed him to most of the distinctive musical traditions of America and he has assimilated and redeployed most of them in his own music. Brought up in one of the suburbs of New York, the young Gottlieb absorbed the music he heard on the radio – notably jazz and the Broadway musical. He played the clarinet in marching bands; he taught himself the piano. At summer schools he was influenced by the choral conductor and composer Max Helfman, important in the history of American Jewish music, who encouraged Gottlieb’s interest in his Jewish heritage. Gottlieb later studied with Irving Fine, Aaron Copland and Boris Blacher, amongst others. From 1958 to 1966 Gottlieb was Leonard Bernstein’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic; he has edited writings by Bernstein and the Bernstein newsletter, Prelude, Fugue & Riffs. From 1970 to 1973 Gottlieb was the musical director of Temple Israel in St. Louis; he has written important academic works on the traditions of Jewish music.

His music is as various in form and style as all this might suggest. He has written a string quartet and two one-act operas; a setting of the Song of Songs and music for piano duet; Downtown Blues for Uptown Halls, for voice, clarinet and piano, and incidental music for Twelfth Night. And, of course, a body of sacred music – some of which is represented on this Naxos CD in the series devoted to the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music.

Composers as eclectic as Gottlieb present obvious problems – but there are rewards too. At times the listener to this CD will be forcibly reminded of Bernstein, especially of the Mass and the Age of Anxiety; of Copland; of the Broadway musical and of mainstream jazz; of the traditional chant of the synagogue – and much else. For the most part, the sheer honesty of the musical and religious intention(s) sustains the eclecticism and recommends it to the listener.

I found the settings of the Psalms, in Shout for Joy and Psalmistry particularly pleasing and interesting. In the first of these Psalm 84 and substantial passages from Psalms 95 and 81 are set, in English. The work is in three movements, with the verses from Psalm 95 and psalm 81 framing the setting of Psalm 84. The first and third movements use a brass sextet, two flutes, organ and piano. The central movement employs only the organ and the flutes. There is a genuine sense of joy, of dance rhythms, in these settings, their jazz inflections well judged,  textually apt and thoroughly integrated into the larger structures. The writing for flutes, which sometimes imitates phrases in the text (“the sparrow has found a home / and the swallow a nest for herself”) is especially attractive. Psalmistry is presented through extracts. The choral writing is not especially original or individual, but articulates successfully the first of the four sections that we hear, which are headed ‘Praises’, ‘Mysteries’, ‘Jubilations’ and ‘Wonderments’. A closing ‘Envoi’ rounds of this selection.

Love Songs for the Sabbath – a setting of the Friday service – is also presented as extracts; we hear nine of nineteen sections. Much of Gottlieb’s writing here seems more suited for the concert hall (or even the theatre) than for the synagogue, though the work was commissioned by Hazzan David Putterman for performance at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. There are some moments of striking radiancy in the music, and, as elsewhere, Gottlieb makes very effective use of a reading voice. The reader on this recording is the actress Tovah Feldshuh and she is consistently superb, flexible in voice, intelligent in her phrasing and unsentimentally emotional.

Set Me As A Seal unites texts from the Song of Songs and the Book of Deuteronomy and Gottlieb’s setting of them is a forceful affirmation of the power of love. The programme opens with a sequence of Candle Blessings, whose texts are spoken in English and sung in Hebrew. These Blessings have a quiet, contemplative and private quality quite unlike the more public, even boisterous music of some of the Psalm settings. The CD closes with a short prayer of blessing in which traditional modes are dextrously employed, the resonant voice of Cantor Robert Abelson well blended with those of a small choir to make a moving conclusion.

The booklet notes are extensive and helpful, including comments on each work by the composer. Extensive texts are provided.

Music of specialist interest and not music by a ‘great composer’ perhaps. But much of it is moving, all of it is, at the very least, very well crafted. Anybody who has been enjoying some of the music from the Milken Archive issued on Naxos will certainly enjoy this addition to the series.

Glyn Pursglove





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