2.Part 2: Because I Could Not Stop For Death - Wild Nights
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Harmonium is John Adams's breakthrough work. After experimenting with a number of different styles, he settled on consonance and simplicity, and became famous upon the work's premiere in 1981. It exemplifies his music--a listener-friendly West Coast minimalism using tasteful, keyboards-enhanced instrumentation and having a generally mellow sound. Adams harmonizes seemingly disparate parts: dense, complex, death-obsessed poems by two very different writers, one by the worldly John Donne and two by the reclusive Emily Dickinson, sung by a choral group rather than soloists. And he makes it work. Unlike the newer Nonesuch recording, this reissued ECM Harmonium retains a sense of something fresh, beginning at a barely perceptible pianissimo, growing through the meditations of "Negative Love" and "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" to the ecstatic, erotically charged crescendo of "Wild Nights," and settling back into calm. Images of artificial forms of transport, including boats, run through the poems. Yet, considering the cover shot of barnacle-laden rocks on the seashore, one imagines Adams's music as portraying, instead, the shifting moods of the ocean itself. Indeed, it is the perfectly natural kind of elevation that Adams's oratorio celebrates, and that Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra remain expert at conveying. --Robert Burns Neveldine
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