Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Moses Pergament, The Jewish Song (Den Judiska Sangen)

The European Jews who managed to survive the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust must have felt an extraordinary ambivalence. One does not simply return to normalcy, to everyday life in the wake of such momentous tragedy, such evil. This ambivalence was what composer Moses Pergament, of Finnish-Swedish Jewish heritage, must have felt.

He had shown a remarkable aptitude for music in youth, studied it in St. Petersburg for four years beginning in 1908, and settled in Stockholm in 1916, taking up as a music critic and composer and more-or-less settling permanently there, though he spent some time in Berlin and Paris studying conducting in the 1920s.

He composed The Jewish Song (Den Judiska Sang) (Caprice 21834) in the closing period of the war, 1944, based on the poetic texts of Ragnar Josephson. It is a choral symphony of imposing stature. Incredibly this recorded performance is the first and only one extant. The work has been neglected, forgotten in modern times until now, when we can hear it complete, in a major 1974 recording by the Royal Stockholm Orchestra, the Stockholm Philharmonic Choir and soloists under conductor James DePreist.

It is a sprawling work of great power, anguish, a lament for the six million Jews who perished under the reign of terror spread by the Third Reich during their existence. It is alternately hopeful, despairing, militant in its resistance, sure in its faith and yet struggling against the bleak, incredibly harrowing reality that had enveloped the world. In the end, resolution and determination, thanks that the nightmare had come to an end. It is serious music in tone, expectedly. Somber. Impassioned.

Musically there is a slightly discernible influence of later Mahler, especially of "Song of the Earth" (as the liners note) but this conjoined with Pergament's expressive individuality, which introduces something of his Jewish-Yiddish Euro-heritage with something of his Nordic locality, all transformed to his own dramatic sense.

There is much in the way of vivid turbulence to be heard in the 70-odd minutes of the performance, contrasting with passages of sad tenderness for the innocent. A sarcastic reference to "Deutschland Uber Alles" forms one of the very memorable moments of this monumental work, but there is much else to appreciate, to be moved by.

The performance has an authentic power to it. Everyone rises to the occasion, from soloists to choir to orchestra. It leaves us somewhat stunned. Or that's what it did to me. The rest may be silence, more than a moment's worth. DePriest and company have done us an enormous service by making the work available to us, and doing it so well.

You need to hear it.

No comments:

Post a Comment