CHESKY:  Psalm IV "Sorrow."  Psalm V "Aftermath."  Psalm VI "Rage and Despair."
Slovak Philharmonic Orch/Stephen Somary, cond.

CHESKY CD 203 (F) (DDD) TT:  66:35

The Holocaust acts as the explicit inspiration of this instrumental work. An artist risks much by taking on this subject, chief of which is that the result diminishes the event. This has nothing to do with artistic sincerity or even skill, but with the enormity of the horror. It's difficult for the mind to take it all in. Its implications are almost literally unthinkable. How often do we say the words, "Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands," with a manic joy, mainly because we keep all those deaths from becoming detailed images? It's hard to think of a thousand individual deaths. How much harder to think of millions? The successful works that confront the horror do so piecemeal. They grasp threads of it.

In this regard, David Chesky does a remarkable number of things right. His piece of the horror finds expression in the traditional psalms. Tradition allows us to deal with or get through the unthinkable. The three psalms he chooses begin:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me and hear my prayer. O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. ... For thou art not a God that has pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

This suggests an obvious program, or at least philosophic themes. Chesky in his liner notes gives a reasonably full description, and he's on the side of the angels. But good intentions aren't good enough to make good art. Since Chesky doesn't write Lisztian program music, the program really is important mainly to Chesky as a stimulus to composition. We should be able to take that program away and judge the work by the music itself.

Chesky uses a classic modern/postromantic idiom. He knows his craft. It's obviously music deeply felt. But it's not particularly memorable, fatal for a work written in remembrance. Excepting certain passages in the last movement, nothing really grabbed me or made me listen, and a work lasting over an hour shouldn't allow the mind to wander. There's something "not fully formed" about the idiom, as if Chesky hasn't yet really found his true musical self. I sense a lack of assurance that someone much less ambitious, like Grieg or Grainger, has. I believe Chesky indeed has something to find, and I'd like to hear his work a few years out.

The performances are good, even if little more than a read-through. It's ironic that, what with recording fee structures, Eastern European orchestras probably do more new American music than most American ones. The sound is acceptable.

S.G.S. (Aug. 2001)