Adler: To Speak to Our Time - Gloriæ Dei Cantores
Gloriae Dei Cantores GDCD 066
Classical - Vocal
Adler: A Hymn of Praise, Let Us Rejoice, My Beloved Is Mine, Choral Trilogy, Psalm 23, To Speak to Our Time, How Sweet The Sound
Gloriæ Dei Cantores
Richard K. Pugsley (conductor)
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Review by Mark Werlin - June 30, 2022
The very existence of the works on this album is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of music to bridge divisions between the Jewish and Christian faiths.
In his childhood in Mannheim, Germany, Samuel Adler witnessed an attack on his community’s synagogue. The events of that night—Kristallnacht—prompted his family’s escape from Europe and led him to a life dedicated to composing and teaching music in the US. He developed a personal idiom that reflects the varied influences of his teachers Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Walter Piston, and Randall Thompson. His compositional output has been prodigious: more than 400 published works.
It was Adler’s particular gift for writing sacred choral music that brought him into fruitful collaboration with church choirs in the US and Europe. The shorter selections on “To Speak to Our Time” survey Adler’s productions for commemorative occasions, and frame the lengthy title piece, which was premiered in 2018 by the Dresden (Frauenkirche) Chamber Choir. The nine-part work, structured in segments for choir interspersed with interludes for two violins, incorporates texts in German, the language of Adler’s childhood, Hebrew and Latin, the languages of Western liturgical music, and English, the language of his adopted home. A prelude for violins is followed by the first choral segment, a setting of the German-language poem “Chor der Wandernden” by the Jewish poet and Nobel laureate Nelly Sachs. The poem’s final line (English translation) “Our death will lie like a threshold before your tightly shut doors!” echoes across the eight decades from 1938, the year of Kristallnacht, to 2018, the year of the work’s premiere, to our present-day wars and upheavals that drive desperate refugees across borders. In its chromaticism and unresolved harmonies, Adler captures the unsettled mood of the mid-20th century; yet, over the course of nine movements, the composer finds a path through the darkness, towards the light of reconciliation and the possibility of redemption.
The emotional investment of Gloriæ Dei Cantores and its conductor Richard K. Pugsley in this program of Samuel Adler’s compositions is evident in these inspired performances. (It is rare that a music review can use that word in its original meaning.) The soprano solo in “Chor der Wandernden” (“O you guardians armed with flaming swords”), sung by Sr. Diana Shannon, conveys the universality of the refugees’ suffering, and warns that such mistreatment will have consequences in future generations. In a sense, this performance recreates the dialogue between the Jewish author of the poem and the Christian writers of Sachs’ generation. An omission from the otherwise excellent liner notes is that Nelly Sachs was saved from deportation to the concentration camps at the literal last moment through the intervention of her friend, the great Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf.
Adler‘s “Choral Trilogy” sets three familiar Biblical passages, Psalm 22 and Psalm 149 from Hebrew scriptures, framing Romans, Chapter 8 from the New Testament. Here, as in “To Speak to Our Time”, the text, vocal parts, and organ accompaniment are inextricably linked to the spiritual movement that guides the composition. Opening with the desolation of forsakenness and ending on cries of “hallelujah”, this brief work encapsulates the faith experience common to all religions. The opening pieces, “A Hymn of Praise”, “Let Us Rejoice”, and “My Beloved is Mine”, and the concluding “How Sweet the Sound” present the choir in glorious voice and jubilant spirits.
The recording, produced by conductor Richard K. Pugsley and Brad Michel, engineered by Dan Pfeiffer and Brad Michel, was made in the resonant acoustic of the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Massachusetts. NativeDSD shows the original format as DXD; for those who prefer DXD, hi-res PCM, or higher-rate DSD files to physical SACDs, the album can be downloaded in those resolutions.
As on the ensemble’s previous recording, Pärt: Stabat Mater - Gloriæ Dei Cantores, conductor Pugsley adroitly balances the density of the organ with the massed voices of the choir. I cannot offer a comparison to other interpretations of the Adler pieces; perhaps it is enough to say that these outstanding performances under Mr. Pugsley‘s direction feel completely sufficient, and in his grasp of the composer’s intentions, definitive.
As a stereo-only reviewer, I confess to envying those who can enjoy this superbly recorded album in its full multichannel glory; organ pipes that line the north and south walls of the Church of the Transfiguration, provide a “surround” sound field to celebrants and audiences alike. All open-hearted music lovers will be rewarded with an inspiring listening experience.
For further listening: There are several recent recordings of Samuel Adler's music available from Presto Music in 24/96 resolution downloads and on CD. The 2018 Linn release "Samuel Adler: One Lives but Once" broadly surveys the scope of his symphonic and chamber works. An earlier release by Gloriæ Dei Cantores: A Prophecy of Peace: The Choral Music of Samuel Adler, is also recommended.
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