Dett: The Ordering of Moses

Reviewed on Wed 19 Oct, 2016

James Conlon leads the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with a bold brilliance in approach that makes much of Dett’s accomplished choral writing, a free-flowing orchestral score that brims over with incident and colour, and solid, evocative vocal lines for a quartet of soloists.

Captured live at a Carnegie Hall performance in 2014, this first recording of The Ordering of Moses, a ‘Biblical Folk Scene’ by Ontario-born R Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) makes a forthright claim for a work all but neglected since its premiere. Then, as now, its champions hail from Cincinnati – Eugene Goossens conducting its first performance during the city’s 1937 May Festival. Eloquently beating the drum now, James Conlon leads the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with a bold brilliance in approach that makes much of Dett’s accomplished choral writing, a free-flowing orchestral score that brims over with incident and colour, and solid, evocative vocal lines for a quartet of soloists. Accented with borrowings from traditional African-American spirituals (most conspicuously Go Down, Moses) it sits securely within the romantic symphonic idiom and yet remains authentically American in tone and spirited execution. Performances from all concerned are vivid and wholly persuasive, Bridge’s recording exemplary. Texts are included.
–Michael Quinn