WORKS: The Wandering Jew
PERFORMER: Simon Paisley Day, Teresa Cahill, Hilary Summers, Louise Winter, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, Roderick Williams, Tim Mirfin, Brindley Sherratt, Graeme Danby, Jeremy White; BBC Singers; BBC SO/André de Ridder
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D170
The legend of the Wandering Jew, who refused to allow Christ a resting place on his way to the Crucifixion, and was condemned to wander the earth forever, has haunted Robert Saxton for many years. His own libretto employs disparate characters from different eras, giving various angles to the story in a series of scenes, with the Jew eventually reconciled to his fate as a witness for all men, for all time.
By his own admission, Saxton’s music has inhabited more tonal worlds in recent years, all part of his moving towards the language for this radio opera. There are moments of real lyricism throughout, with slowly moving harmonies. In fact, it’s a long time before we hear any really fast music, arriving in the scene where the Jew arrives in Auerbach’s Cellar, and the following interlude where he, together with Faust, Mephistopheles and Kundry, is transported to meet the god Odin. There’s a hint of Wagnerian majesty in this scene, otherwise the shadow of Britten lies long over the music, not only in the shape of the melodic lines, but also in the clarity of the orchestration.
Baritone Roderick Williams is impressive in the title role, although the spoken passages, where he nudges the plot along, are trite. The electronic treatment of Odin and the Angels of Conscience is discreet and musical, and all the smaller parts are well filled, but the ultimate edge of drama remains elusive.