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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Conceived as a biblical pageant, The Eternal Road is Kurt Weill’s most ambitious work. In a massive sequence of words and music – lasting (if uncut) around five hours – the piece links the stories of biblical characters with the latter-day persecution of Jews in Europe. Originally presented in New York in 1937, it proved too cumbersome for its own good and was quickly forgotten. Yet it contains some of the most inspired music that Weill ever wrote, demonstrating that after he fled from Europe to America his genius remained as fertile and original as ever. This generous selection of musical items, lasting 73 minutes, gives an excellent idea of the piece, very well performed and recorded in Berlin with American soloist and conductor. The vigour of the writing brings a most attractive image of the Broadway style that Weill was developing. That includes such numbers as the fine chorus representing the Israelites’ Dance around the Golden Calf, while the duet between Ruth and Naomi effectively avoids sentimentality in its gentle dance rhythms, and the duet between Ruth and Boaz, similarly popular in style, develops passionately. First-rate sound.

John Rockwell
The New York Times, March 2005

"...the performance is fervent and touching.", March 2005

"One of the 10 Best Opera & Vocal CDs of 2003"

Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, March 2005

"…stirring excerpts from all four acts…"
"Richly satisfying, it also whets the appetite for more."

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, October 2004

"This is the world premiere recording of scenes from Kurt Weill's rediscovered oratorio-style The Eternal Road. Seemingly it created a sensation during the 1937 New York season after which it largely slipped from sight.

The style seems almost completely alien to what we usually expect from Weill. There is little of the distinctively Jewish ethnic sound heard in most of the other Milken volumes. An exception can be heard in the wickedly worldly catchiness of the Chananiah track from Act 4 (tr. 15). It is instead in an idiom that is romanticised big-band Handelian. It would fit like a custom-made glove in a Three Choirs festival season. The storyline is Biblical and is very ambitious spanning the prophets and other Old Testament figures: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Miriam, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Chananiah.

Overall this work is thoroughly English or Anglo-Saxon in its aural ‘signature’. It takes little imagination to see this as ‘bread and butter’ repertoire to Sargent, Goossens or Beecham. It is gratefully singable even if the words are not always a perfect fit to the melody’s phrasing. It is gratefully sung by a roll-call of singers many of whom who would make a fine line-up for Handel’s Messiah or Mendelssohn’s Elijah or St. Paul. This calling is blended with Brahmsian romance, Verdian sentiment and a flaming operatic volatility (try the My Idols track - tr. 13). Tracks 3 and 7 include some spoken passages seamlessly woven into the picture. There are many sweetly comforting passages including the start of Moses receives the commandments (tr. 6) where the solo violin weaves its nectar around the introspective musings of the choir. The same track also includes completely unHandelian music of dynamic and driving fervour blasted to silence by a slammed impact on the tam-tam. Just once in Naomi and Ruth I caught a momentary shadow of the Weill of racy Weimar disillusion in the pattering accompaniment and the sung melodic line. Is Ruth going to turn from the alien corn and launch into Surabaya Johnny? The mournful Isaiah and Jeremiah (tr. 12) occasionally echoes Tippett’s Child of our Time.

I understand that all of this sounds scarcely credible but I can assure you that I am faithfully relaying my impressions to you. It may perhaps be counted in the company of other fine but neglected Biblical-themed choral festival works from the 1930s and 1940s: Cecil Effinger’s Paul of Tarsus, Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom, Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses. Across the Atlantic we find somewhat similar works in the shape of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 4 Siegeslied (1933), and much later Maurice Jacobson’s The Hound of Heaven (1954). It ends in Aida-like magnificence with horns ringing out in a Shofar-blaze of magnificence.

A surprising and very agreeable discovery. If you like the works I have mentioned as reference-parallels you should hear this urgently. Such a pity that the whole work could not have been recorded. I hope that opportunities will now be made for the revival of other pageant works from this composer: We Will Never Die (1943) and A Flag is Born (1946). If so perhaps not far behind will be a revival of Alan Bush’s secular flag-waving works of the 1930s and 1940s. Altogether a fascinating experience."

Phil Ehrensaft

Any Who's Who of important composers and performers on the American classical music scene, past and present, includes a proportion of Jewish-Americans that is far higher than their share of the country's total population. A passion for art music, both secular and liturgical, and pride in the accomplishments of great Jewish musicians, is a principal vehicle for ethnic self-identification. If the Jewish tradition permitted beatification, there would surely be a St. Heifitz, St. Bernstein and the like. Now the passion and presence are being documented via an ambitious, well-funded partnership between the Milken Family Foundation and Naxos.

The first seven of fifty CD titles documenting art music in the life of Jewish-Americans, and Jewish-American art music's role in American culture, have just been issued. Six hundred works were recorded. Five hundred first time commercial releases. The recordings range from the cantorial music of seventeenth century Sephardic immigrants to the secular radicalism of Stefan Wolpe and John Zorn. The criteria for inclusion are that compositions build upon Jewish musical materials or deal with the quandaries of Jewish life and history.

The first CD features selections from Kurt Weill's The Eternal Road, a magisterial 6-hour pageant. A pogrom erupts and the Jewish community gathers in a synagogue to await its fate. While waiting, they recall their people's history from Genesis onwards. Weill, born into an eminent German-Jewish clerical family, had the deep knowledge to pull this off. He hoped the pageant would mobilize American public opinion to save Europe's Jews.

The Eternal Road involved 250 performers on five stages, with the synagogue in the orchestra pit. There was literally no room for the orchestra, so the music was recorded on a film track. Its 1937 New York premier was a critical success, and the pageant went through 153 performances. Full houses were, alas, insufficient to finance the giant effort, which bankrupted its producer, Meyer Weisgall.

Intense, virtuosic clarinet improvisations are a hallmark of Klezmer music. Three of the five compositions on Milken's second CD, "Klezmer Concertos and Encores", are inspired by this virtuosity. Ellenstein's Hassidic Dance is late romantic, Starter's K'li Zemer is accessible modernism, and Golijov's Rocketekya is pure New York avant-garde. All three are showcases for David Krakauer's magic clarinet. Krakauer trained at Julliard and the Conservatoire de Paris. He's equally at home playing new composed music, standard repertoire, and his own avant-garde ensemble, "Klezmer Madness."

Highly recommended.

Edith Eisler

This is an extraordinary, unique work... The singing is never less than good, frequently excellent. The record makes one long to hear the music in its entirety.

Bradley Bambarger

"The well-annotated, richly recorded set stands as the most vital Weill document since RCA's centenary "Der Silbersee." On disc, "The Eternal Road" comes across like a dramatic oratorio, albeit with the distinctive harmonic/melodic/textural imprint familiar to fans of Weill's Cabaret music. The direction by Gerard Schwarz is admirable and the chorus and many vocal soloists discharge their roles with skill and spirit. The release comes as one of the first in a 50-CD American Jewish Music series from Naxos via the Milken Archive."

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12:57:07 AM, 7 October 2015
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