What an interesting and rewarding composer Toch is! The Cantata of the Bitter Herbs for narrator, soloist, chorus and orchestra comes from 1938, four years after he had left Nazi Germany to settle in the United States. It is neo-romantic and at times even Straussian (he had, incidentally, gone with Strauss to Florence in 1934 to a musical conference). No doubt prompted by the death of his mother in Vienna, it is a work of much inventive resource and undoubted expressive eloquence. The Fifth of his seven Symphonies comes from 1962-3 and, like the Cantata, is based on Exodus. It is subtitled ‘Rhapsodic Poem’ and is altogether freer in style than Nos. 6 and 7, to which he turned in the last year of his life. Both works are of quality and very well performed and recorded: at a fraction of the price of a concert ticket, this is a real bargain which will well repay curiosity.
Schwarz directs with emotion and the Czech Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir are stellar. Theodore Bikel's narration is polished story telling ... The sound is fine in both works, with Naxos's customary blended acoustic contributing to the effect Schwarz achieves in the symphony.