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John ADAMS (b.1947) On the Transmigration of Souls (2002)
New York Choral Artists
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Philip Smith (trumpet)
Preben Antonson (boy’s voice). Other voices: Sam Adams; Emily Adams; Ditsa Pines; Deborah O’Grady; Morgan Staples.
Mark Grey (soundscape engineering)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Recorded in concert at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, 19-24 September 2002. DDD
NONESUCH 7559 79816-2 [25’04"]


Commissioned by the NYPO to mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks, On The Transmigration of Souls is a twenty-five minute work, the significance and context of which have been well explored elsewhere. I know that Ives has been cited as an important influence – specifically The Unanswered Question, which is here evoked by the trumpet lines that appear at the beginning and toward the end of the work. But perhaps it’s Reich’s Different Trains that is as apt a piece to consider in its summoning up of voices and fragments that generate their intensity through repetition and use of the seemingly quotidian.

The repetition of Missing and the repeated use of individual names, tape overlapped, co-exists with the chorus’ initially mystic sounding lines. The massing of layered sounds, of footsteps on pavements, of the hieratic questing trumpet set up the tensions that impact in the first outburst at 11.20. It’s after the choir repeats know where he is that the baleful, braying brass and constant orchestral ostinati animate scurrying wind-like turbulence, the metallic hammers and eerie sonorities that glisten. Eventually consoling string lines appear and the words I hear water – a single voice, to the sound of the wash of the sea and the redemption of Love. That is at least something of what, in plain language, you will hear.

As a response to tragedy it strives to maintain a balance between a sense of numbed loss and of redemptive promise. To this end the performance is scrupulously well prepared and sumptuously recorded.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Neil Horner (Recording of the Month) and John Quinn


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