Genesis Suite (1945) – A Musical Collaboration Naxos American Classics 8.559442
Various Narrators, Ernst Sheffer Choir, Chorusmaster Sigurd Brauns, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, cond. Gerard Schwarz
Coming from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, this Post-War composition by 7 different composers, such as Schoenberg, Milhaud and Stravinsky, each contributing 1 movement, depicts episodes from the earliest Biblical stories including The Garden, The Flood, the Tower of Babel and Cain & Abel narrated by famous actors. Previously only available on a privately issued set of 78 records, the work was performed just once before a fire destroyed a large proportion of the score. A recent discovery of the original manuscripts has allowed a reconstruction of the missing music and led to this first generally available disc, making this effectively a world premier recording.
The music is rather good actually, being a brilliant mix of The Pastoral and Second Viennese School Modernism, tinged with that rather strange concoction of what that so many classical composers of the era thought Jazz was about.
But it's the narration that calls the project into question for me. I admit that there’s not an awful lot one can do about the text when directly quoting the Old Testament, but the presentation is very much that of the Era – patronising New England voices imparting The Truth in the style of a 1950s Disney TV nature documentary. I’m sorry to say that this makes the whole thing seem rather ridiculous and dated in the worst possible way. I suppose a one-word description of this side of the production would be ‘Worthy’. I’d be interested to hear whether an American listener experiences the same difficulty with the style. I find it excruciating in the extreme! Which is the greatest shame as the music could stand alone and might even rank as a modern masterpiece.