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Saxton The Wandering Jew

a radio opera, commissioned by the BBC

Roderick Williams (Wandering Jew)

Tim Mirfin (Jesus/Beggar)
Teresa Cahill (Widowed Mother)
Simon Paisley Day (Showman)
Hilary Summers (Fortune Teller)
Louise Winter (Kundry)
Geoffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Faust)
Brindley Sherratt (Mephistopheles)
Graeme Danby (Odin)
Jeremy White (The Old Man)
BBC Singers
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Andre de Ridder (conductor)

NMC CD 170 [135 minutes]

A magnum opus which took 10 years in the composing (with spin-off works meanwhile), this seems to have Wagnerian aspirations. Although not stated in terms, the libretto was apparently by the composer, covering Jewish life and death over the millennia, with our superb baritone Roderick Williams narrating and singing the role of the eponymous shoe-mender who had refused to help Jesus on his way to his crucifixion. Faust, Mephistopheles, Kundry, Wotan etc appear, sung variably well.

As a radio production I think it probably succeeded, with balance favouring the voices to ensure that the story comes across. As a CD however, with full text to hand, the same becomes a liablilty, drawing attention from Saxton's music, which is structured in ways which he describes in the notes - "derived from a basic diatonic note-set with a plan of 'rising' tonal centres". All that goes for little, I fear. The orchestral score is rarely striking enough to seize attention so it becomes "background".

Worthy, but less than compelling.

Peter Grahame Woolf