In February 1974, James De Predst, as guest conductor of the Stockholm Philharmonic, presided over a performance of Moses Pergament's oratorio, "The Jewish Song," which at least one Swedish critic described as "among the most moving experiences of my life." It was only the second presentation of the work, the first having taken place in 1948, four years after Pergament completed the score. Since "The Jewish Song" was written about admiringly in the intervening years, the long hiatus between the two performances is hard to explain, but it is more to the point to report that De Preist's performance was recorded (with takes from rehearsals and a follow-up studio session), and it has just been released on the Rikskonserter's (Sweden's Institute for National Concerts) Caprice label (CAP 2003, two discs).
Moses Pergament, now 84, is an important and unique figure in Swedish music. He was born in Helsinki and grew up absorbing a culture not so much Finnish as Jewish. Following studies in Petrograd, Paris and Berlin, he settled in Stockholm before he turned 30 and soon distinguished himself as a critic and scholar; more significantly, he became the third triumvir (with Hilding Rosenburg and Gosta Nystroem) in the generation of composers responsible for the rise of modern Swedish music. While some of his vocal music is admired by connoisseurs, his work has never been well known outside of Scandinavia.
Early in his life Pergament wrote, as all of his compatriots did, under the influence of Sibelius, but in his 30s he shook it off to create his own language. The discernible influences are those loosely identified as "Nordic" and "Jewish," as well as that of Mahmore northerly Bloch, and all of these lyric-expressive style more personal than national.
The shadow of "Das Lied von der Erde" falls lightly on "The Jewish Song," inspired in part by the horrendous events of the time it was composed, but most directly by the "Jewish Poems" of Ragnar Josephson. The work, composed in the astoundingly brief space of three weeks (except for a single lovely section written in 1941), is not a bleak recitation of horrors, but includes some serene and nostalgic sections.
The production is a handsome one. De Preist has responded nobly to the work's compassionate, "from the heart to the heart" nature, and also to its very real musical strength. The soloists (soprano Birgit Nordin, tenor Sven-Olof Eliasson), the chorus and the orchestra have give their all, perhaps mindful that they may not get another go at the work for two or three decades, and both the recorded sound and the pressings are first-rate.
The only shortcoming - and it does have to be mentioned - is in the packaging. The gatefold container is convenient and attractive, with notes bound in, book-style, and an appealing design commissioned especially from Igi Kirselbom, but, although the rather rambling background annotations are given in Swedish, English and German, the all-important song-texts are printed in Swedish only, as are the descriptions of the three orchestral segments.
While the American conductor was recording a Swedish masterwork in Stockholm, a yound Englishman named David Measham was taping some rather basic orchestral works of Samuel Barber with the London Symphony Orchestra. The four works offered on Unicorn RHS 342 are the First Symphony, both of the Essays for Orchestra and the evocative andante called "Night Flight," which was originally the slow movement of the Second Symphony (the rest of which Barber decided to withdraw about 20 years ago).
Measham is one of those versatile young musicians active on all fronts: He conducted the second recording of The Who's rock opera, "Tommy," has been involved in rock and pop for years, and played violin in the LSO before conducting it. He now is conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth. His understanding of the Barber idiom seems complete, and is certainly persuasive. The second of the two Essays has been getting a lot of exposure lately, but the earlier one hasn't been heard in years, and has never been recorded in stereo before (nor, for that matter, has "Night Flight"). A most welcome disc.
Neither of these recordings is listed in the Schwann Catalog, but both may be found in major record shops. Otherwise, the source is the importer of both labels, HNH Distributors, Evanston, Ill.