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Josef Tal Symphonies Nos.4, 5 & 6
NDR Radiophilharmonie/Israel Yinon

CPO 999 922-2 [67 mins; recorded January/February 2003, Grosser Sendesaal, NDR, Hanover]

Josef Tal (b. 1910) is a prolific senior Israeli composer, German born, emigrated to Palestine 1934 and active to very old age. His musical style was developed from the second Viennese school's methods and he has remained an unrepentant modernist. His piano sonata (1950) is featured in Ari Ben-Shabetai's monumental Anthology of Israeli Piano Music. But Tal has also been an innovator and pioneer, one of the first to combine a live instrument with a studio-generated tape recording; he founded the Israel Center for Electronic Music and imported the first Moog Synthesizer into his adopted country.

His later symphonies, each playing continuously, are colourful and expertly orchestrated. No.4 Jubilee (1985) has the character of a concerto for orchestra, with all groups spotlit, and it is a tribute to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, founded a couple of years after Tal's arrival from Europe. Don't read the rather clotted commentaries first; their small print might strain your eyes, and this is music which 'speaks' directly, even though many of the cross-references will elude most listeners.

No 5 celebrates renewal of contact with Berlin and was commissioned by the BPO for Tal's 80th birthday in 1990. It begins, like Bruckner's, with quiet bass tremolos and grows through six linked sections contrasting stasis and activity. You may find the detailed analysis helpful after a couple of 'innocent ear' hearings, but Habakuk Traber's way with words lends itself to easy ridicule (c.p. MusicWeb's appreciation of the first symphony, dismissive of Tal's next two and of the commentaries accompanying that CD CPO 999 921-2).

The last symphony, composed soon after the fifth, is dramatic and densely textured. It shows no falling away of invention and vitality and the complex counterpointing of strands is well sorted out in the vivid performances by the NDR radio orchestra. Josef Tal should not be overlooked when considering composers who, like Verdi and Carter, have been productive into old age. He is pictured here in discussion with conductor and producer at the time of these Jan/Feb 2003 recordings.

© Peter Grahame Woolf