> Riley Requiem for Adam 759796392 [TH]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Terry RILEY (b.1935)
Requiem for Adam (1998)
     i. Ascending the Heaven Ladder
     ii. Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo
     iii. Requiem for Adam
Kronos Quartet
The Philosopher’s Hand (2000)
Terry Riley (piano)
Recorded August 2000 at Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, California.
NONESUCH 7559-79639-2 [47:46]


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It is indeed a sobering thought to realise that those great founding-fathers of American minimalism, Steve Reich, La Monte Young and Terry Riley, are all well into their middle sixties. With his seminal masterpiece In C (1964), Riley effectively set in motion a movement that is still reverberating through the contemporary music scene, and this present issue gives us a chance to see what stage his compositional processes have reached.

Riley has, like so many other composers, worked with and been inspired by Kronos for over twenty years, their relationship stretching back to teaching days in Mills College, Oakland, California. Unfortunately the main work on this disc, Requiem for Adam, was borne out of personal grief and tragedy. Adam Harrington was the 16 year old son of Kronos’s leader David Harrington and died of heart failure while walking with his family on Mt. Diablo in 1996. Riley had known Adam since he was a small boy and obviously felt the pain as acutely as anybody, so when the idea of a commission in his memory was mooted, Riley admits he found it ‘very difficult to get started', but that ‘when you lose a person close to you, the best thing is to put something in that person’s place, to make an affirmation that life goes on’. The resulting work is both a heartfelt memorial and a celebration of ‘the pulsations of a young life’. In fact this is the third in a series of ‘requiems’ written to commemorate the deaths of people close to him, and whilst this in itself does not guarantee a masterpiece, the personal dimension to this work has, I think, softened those aggressive edges that minimalism can have, into something deeply engaging.

Rhythmic cells and small melodic pattern ‘phases’ are still evident, but the sheer warmth of the harmonies and almost voluptuous nature of the string writing take us into another dimension. Like many other composers, he likes taped collages of ‘sound’ to co-exist with the live instruments, in this case in the second movement, where electronic percussion, gongs and bells give a suitably ‘processional’ feel. I have to admit to preferring the outer movements, where the Kronos are simply left to play the notes, and here Riley shows us a composer really plying his craft, the material both memorable and moving. In fact the closing coda, cleverly using a two-note motive from the opening and representing the two syllables of Adam’s name, not only shows us the ‘full circle’ of life, but that art created out of suffering can be both consolatory and uplifting.

After sharing this moving forty-two minute journey, the tiny tailpiece almost seems unnecessary. It does have a link in that it is another memorial in sound (in this case to Riley’s philosophical and spiritual mentor, Pandit Pran Nath), but this time we get a spontaneous piano improvisation. At a live concert this would undoubtedly be effective, but for repeated listening it simply comes across as a ‘doodle’, the sort of thing Keith Jarrett does much more effectively (the opening ‘riff ‘ even has an echo of Jarrett’s La Scala concert). Devotees of Riley will no doubt enjoy hearing him at the piano, but after the weight and substance of the Requiem, I can take or leave this.

Production values, as ever with Nonesuch, are exemplary; liner notes, recording quality and (needless to say in this case) performances, are all ideal. As the minimalists grow older and become what is now being termed ‘maximalists’ (your guess is as good as mine), the resulting warmth and passion, qualities not easily discerned in their early work, can only be a cause for celebration.

Tony Haywood

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