Like Vaughan Williams in his Job: A Masque for Dancing, Davies was inspired in part by William Blake's 21 engravings for the Book of Job. His oratorio, however, is less dependent on find parallels for Blake's visual details, given the direct poetry in David Lemon's adaptation of the Stephen Mitchell translation from the biblical original, it is hardly surprising that the spotlight should be so much on Job's suffering litany. The baritone has the lion's share of the setting, though the other soloists occasionally reinforce his plea and chorale-like episodes universalize his predicament. Davies frames with work with two seminal plainsong-like passages; there is also plenty of dramatic contrast both within Job's monologues and in the vivid orchestral writing for the smarmy Comforters, the initially shrill God who finally appears out of a dazzling orchestral whirlwind and the animal life he uses to illustrate the wonders of creation to a humbled Job.
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Shortened if not improved by David Lemon, the word of God was presented as excerpts from Stephen Mitchell’s 1979 translation…its short, prosaic lines proved rather apt for musical setting, rarely deferring their sense beyond immediate comprehension, and leaving space for the composer’s scenic effects. These were striking, written with the same kind of ear for instrumental drama that marks out a classic work like his opera The Lighthouse… Over the years, Max has specialised in writing for non-professionals, and much of this oratorio was direct and tonal, as if the need to be simple had honed and qualified the style.
Nicholas Williams, The Independent, “Barbican Hall, London, November 1997”
Maxwell Davies never makes things easy, either for the performers or the audience. He’s craggy and difficult but with time, things become clear… Disavowing the easy answers of doctrine and the advise of untested friends, [Job] finally draws the privilege of a conference with the “Unnamed”. Here are Maxwell Davies’ most glorious, exotic exhalations of sounds, sometimes extending like thin peninsulas into an ocean of silence. The CBC Vancouver orchestra played like a dream, and the soloists sang marvellously… The Vancouver Bach Choir, in their extremely demanding role, sang better than they’ve been heard in years.
Lloyd Dykk, The Vancouver Sun, “Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, May 1997”