It's not often that a new, full-length oratorio joins the historical repertoire. Created for church use, this substantial musical form arose around 1600 at the Church of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome. By far the best-known oratorio today is Handel's Messiah, which premiered in 1742.
Richard Bansemer had always wanted to write the text for an oratorio based on the Old Testament book of Job, "the second greatest story ever told," in his words. His goal: "To present Job as a person we can all identify with when suffering comes upon us, as we struggle with our faith, with God and with powers that are beyond our knowledge."
An ELCA pastor since 1966, Bansemer retired as bishop of the Virginia Synod in 1999. He worked on his project off and on over the years. But it was only in retirement that he had enough time to finish. In 2003 he joined forces with composer Aaron Garber, music director at College Evangelical Lutheran Church, Salem, Va., who used Bansemer's libretto to write the score for the oratorio.
When the one-hour work premiered in Roanoke, Va., in June, it drew a full house and a commendation from the governor. Job features full orchestra, choir (the Salem Choral Society) and five soloists — professionals assembled from various locales. Philip Bouknight sang the title role of Job. An opera singer, he is now pastor of two Virginia Lutheran churches: St. Mark, Willis, and Zion, Floyd. His wife, mezzo-soprano Tara Bouknight, also was a soloist.
Fortunately, the premiere of Job is available on CD. The music is varied, vivid and moving. The soloists are excellent (though difficult to hear in a few places). The robust performance allows a listener to imagine being in the concert hall (down to the occasional cough and thunk that inevitably accompany a live performance).
To order, send $15 per CD plus $3 shipping (for any number ordered) to: Salem Choral Society, Job CD, 210 S. College Ave., Salem VA 24153.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers