Waxman: Joshua

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WORKS: Joshua
PERFORMER: Maximilian Schell (narrator), Ann Hallenberg (mezzo-soprano), Beter Buchi, Patrick Poole (tenor), Rod Gilfry (baritone); Prague Philharmonic Choir; Prague Philharmonia/James Sedares
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5724
Emigrating from Berlin to the USA in


1934, Franz Waxman became head of

music at Universal Studios at the age

of 29. Though principally famous as a

film-music composer (he scored more

than 150 films) the oratorio Joshua

was among his last, and largest, of his

concert works. Written following his

wife’s death in 1957, it was dedicated

to her memory and emerges – in

this, its first complete performance

since 1961 – as a passionately sincere

utterance. Furthermore, its tale

of the Jews’ first wars in the Holy

Land is, unfortunately, timeless.

Waxman’s command of his forces

is impressive, his general musical

language redolent of Mahler and

Bloch. Many moments suggest the

wide screen, not least the baleful

march (with seven trumpets) that

brings down the walls of Jericho, but

Waxman is admirably eclectic in

rising to the big musical moments,

such as the strongly polyphonic

chorus of rejoicing that ends Part 1,

or the aria ‘Rahab’s Plea’ – for me the

expressive high-point of the oratorio.

Like many works employing spoken

narration, however, the music can

seem awkwardly broken up, while

Maximilian Schell is oddly quiet and

inward in declaiming what could

be a much fierier text. Rod Gilfry is

a virile tenor soloist as both Moses

and Joshua, but Ann Hallenberg is

outstanding in the part of the harlot


Rahab. Calum MacDonald