MASON BATES: Children of Adam; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Dona Nobis Pacem – Michelle Areyzaga, sop./ Kevin Deas, Bass-Bar./ Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/ Steven Smith – Reference Recordings fresh! FR-732, 61:17 ****:
Though I have heard of composer Mason Bates, I believe this is first time I have ever heard any of his music. There is always a degree of excitement at such a prospect, as it goes to the future of the classical idiom and gauges the taste of contemporary audiences. The program in whole is dedicated to the poetry of Walt Whitman, evidently as beloved to Bates with his Children of Adam as it is to his disc companion, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The comparison, while not exact, is interesting, as the two view the same poet in very different lights.
Though Whitman predominates, the psalms, Genesis, native American texts, and Carl Sandburg all make appearances. The composer describes the piece as a “collection of exuberant celebrations of creation”, and although some of the music, especially the Genesis account, can be rather dark if not foreboding, the narrative is rather accurate. Bates shows a fine grasp of the orchestral idiom, and even more importantly, the choral, with an integrated and highly individual sound that transfers from text to text in a seamlessly smooth manner. Hearing this makes me want to hear more from this young composer, who here presents a tantalizing resume.
The Vaughan Williams is even better. The “Grand Old Man of English Music” wrote his for the one hundredth anniversary of the Huddersfield Choral Society. The work is based on the Agnus Dei from the Roman mass, the prophets in the Old Testament, a speech given by John Bright to the House of Commons during the Crimean War, and his favorite poet—Walt Whitman. The piece is for large orchestra, chorus, and two soloists, making for a magnificent compilation that serves as the prototype for many similar “pastiche” textual works for years to come, including, one might hazard, the Bates on this disc. It is wonderfully presented with spirit and verve, nicely recording the Richmond Symphony and Chorus at their best.
— Steven Ritter