ADAMS: On the Transmigration of Souls; Barber: Adagio for Strings; Agnus Dei; CORIGLIANO: Elegy; JENNIFER HIGDON: Dooryard Bloom – Nmon Ford, baritone/ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses/ Gwinnett Young Singers/ Robert Spano, conductor – Telarc 80673, 72:29 ****1/2:
This is a great album, make no mistake. The reason for my ½ star of hesitancy is because I still wish that the thing was released on SACD. Telarc’s website says “one format” meaning (in their case) regular CD downsampled from DSD masters, but they have often then been releasing some months later in SACD surround format.
[This just in from Telarc: they ARE releasing it on SACD – the Concord Music web site was just misinformed. That’s encouraging, since Telarc has been such a shining example in SACD releases. This is the first CD/SACD not produced by Telarc, but by Elaine Martone of Sonarc Music, with the engineering team being Five/Four Productions. Both of these organizations are made up of former Telarc staff let go by Concord Music Group…Ed.]
What we have is fabulous, and the sound is still excellent. I wonder if many listeners out there realize what a disaster Symphony Hall in Atlanta is. The acoustics are abysmal, and there are plans for a new hall that are progressing at the speed of molasses. But Telarc has learned how to get around the terrible sound in the place [as they used to do with the San Francisco Symphony’s venue…Ed.], and you would never have guessed, having heard the orchestra live, that the recording was made there. The orchestra sounds as good as ever, the strings particularly showing vast improvement
Both of the Barber works have been recorded by Telarc before, the Adagio on an all-Barber disc by Yoel Levi some years ago that got great reviews and is still one of he best available. The Agnus Dei was set down by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers. Both performances are excellent, but since these two works serve as bookends to this recital it does little good to compare them. The new ones are also very fine, Spano’s Adagio being a little more expansive than Levi’s and this time a much bigger choir than Shaw’s Festival Singers.
The John Adams has already had a triple award Grammy winner in the Nonesuch recording, so it takes a little bit of chutzpah to record it again. But this version is in my opinion better than the Nonesuch because the choral work is so much more refined and dramatic, though the Nonesuch remains a superb reading and I doubt this one will top it critically, except by me. It is a powerful work of great substance of memory and regret, and should be heard by anyone who was impacted by 9/11, meaning everyone. There is more music on this disc, so if you have not heard the piece this is the one to get.
John Corigliano’s Elegy is an early 1966 work that expressed sorrow over lost youth, in this case Helen of Troy, based on a piece he had written for an off-Broadway production of Wallace Ford’s Helen. The work, dedicated to mentor Samuel Barber, is very much in the Copland/Barber/Bernstein neo-romantic mode of the time.
Jennifer Higdon is in my assessment one of greatest of the newer composers, already lionized on many recordings, including the Atlanta Symphony, who recorded her Concerto for Orchestra, the piece that launched her career in Philadelphia in 2002. This work, scored for orchestra and baritone, is based on Walt Whitman’s When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d. It is an amazing contrapuntal delight that strikes just the right mood of Whitman’s poem, exploring tonal ranges that I have not heard in her music before, with an amazing transparency in the vocal part that integrates seamlessly with the orchestra. This piece, premiered in 2005 by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, is the finest I have heard by her to date, and may even—if one can be so bold—equal the parallel work by Paul Hindemith, also recorded with excellence by Shaw and the ASO some years back, and still the best version of the piece.
So this is a complete winner by any set of standards; not something I’d put on at a party, but certainly something designed for reflection and quietude – just downright worthwhile and inspiring music.
— Steven Ritter