WAXMAN: Joshua

For reasons the booklet essay of this DG release does not explain, he
decided to compose a dramatic oratorio, based on the Book of Joshua, in honor of his spouse.
Work on the opera was suspended, and Forsyth adapted the texts. At its premiere in 1959, the
work received some strongly favorable reviews. yet the oratorio Joshua slipped into neglect, until
the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc., supplied the funding for this recording.

An oratorio on a biblical subject, as late as 1959, suggests a musically conservative work. While
the music is indeed strongly tonal, with dissonant elements utilized only for pointed dramatic
effect, Joshua contains inspired music. Film composers usually get the rap that their serious
efforts still sound like background scoring. There are moments like that in the score, but for the
most part, Waxman’s inspiration has a greater cohesiveness and subtler effects than even his
finest work in films. The striking opening, with a memorable oboe solo, sets a mood itself, rather
than simply illustrating a cinematic scene. Perhaps the music veers a little bit too close to
“biblical epic” scoring in the section about “the house of a harlot,” but the problem there may be
more with the English texts unintentionally prompting snickers.

Part one, through the siege of Jericho, grips the listener throughout, but as part two ensues,
Waxman’s invention wanes a bit and the piece begins to wear out its welcome. Ultimately,
Joshua can’t overcome a sense that Waxman took on an artistic challenge few if any had any
interest in accomplishing anymore. However, the score’s strongest sections could make for a
suite that would please concert hall audiences much more than any number of serial/atonal pieces
written around the same time.

DG has not provided separate tracks for Maximilian Schell’s narration, and as the actor gets a bit
hammy form time to time, that’s unfortunate. One can skip ahead to the next track when Schell
begins his spiel, as invariably he comes in at the end a section. In brief solo sections, Rod Gilfry
sings both Joshua and Moses with masculine authority. James Sedares and the Prague
Philharmonia perform as professionally as any Hollywood studio orchestra Waxman ever worked
with, and in excellent sound.

No, not a lost masterpiece, but an enjoyable work, which is more than can be said for a lot of
“serious” music from 1959.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Franz Waxman: Joshua
product_title=Franz Waxman: Joshua
product_by=Ann Hallenberg, Peter Buchi, Maxmilian Schell, Rodney Gilfry, Prague Philharmonic Chorus, Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, James Sedares (cond.)
product_id=DG 00289 477 5724 [CD]