HAMPSON SISLER: The Second Coming – Sofia Chamber Choir/ Sofia Sinfonietta/ Marlon Daniel – MSR Classics MS 1489, 56:12 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
I am sure it is me—I really am—but despite the positive reviews I have seen of this work, Sisler’s opus, like others of his work, fails to connect with me. It’s almost like he overstretches in his subject matter. I mean, the Second Coming is a fairly ambitious topic, wouldn’t you think? How would anyone ever dare take on such a subject? Now, I do admire him for attempting it, and I don’t disagree with his comments about the state of the world today and the heightened awareness among Christians at least of such a possibility or desire. Yet I also know that such apocalyptic fervor has occurred many times over the centuries. But the real question is, is this a worthy treatment of such a mystical and Messianic event?
To my mind it neither convinces nor persuades. That doesn’t mean it won’t other people, and indeed apparently has. But I want something more than what I hear. I keep thinking back to any number of the works of Messiaen, whose whole life was seemingly in expectation of such an event, or at the very least a profound awareness of it and of its essentially otherworldly nature. Here I think Sisler concentrates more on an evaluation of the event as something that actually can be described or imagined, and to me that is a false abstract. Messiaen knew that it was beyond imagination, and his music shows descriptive power while at the same time maintaining a certain reticence, hesitancy in going too far, hinting instead of showing us the full picture.
Sisler tries to show us the whole thing, and for me this is where he fails, though the effort is not entirely in vain; there are moments of great beauty and wondrous expectation, when the overwhelming monumentality literally forces the composer to wander from a tone poem type of piece and instead hint himself that perhaps words and music are not sufficient after all. This is where he really succeeds. But in a one hour piece I feel the sustainability is lacking.
But, like I said, many people seem rather transfixed by this work. If you are one of them, this recording will do nicely. The sound is excellent, though the performances do suffer from some intonational issues in the orchestra and chorus. Generally speaking, all is well, and many will be pleased with this.