ADAGIO - Ensemble Caprice

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ADAGIO - A Consideration of a Serious Matter - Ensemble Caprice Choir and Orchestra - Matthias Maute (Conductor) - 774204984823 - Released: October 2013 - Analekta AN29848

1} Jan Dismas Zelenka - Miserere ZWV57 (excerpt)
2} Tomaso Albinoni - Adagio in G minor
3} Samuel Barber - Agnus Dei
4} Matthias Maute - Prélude
5} Erik Satie - Gymnopédie I
6} J. S. Bach - Ich habe genug
7} Giacomo Carissimi - Plorate Israel
8} Frédéric Chopin - Prélude Op. 28 No. 4
9} Gregorio Allegri - Miserere
10} Arvo Pärt - Da Pacem Nomine
11} Jan Dismas Zelenka - Sepulto Dominum
12} Charles Ives - The Unanswered Question

The concept behind this new recording is very simply a presentation, in musical terms, of the great enigma that has troubled humanity since the dawn of time. The never ending quest for the meaning of life, or in this case, more particularly the flip-side of life, our own inevitable mortality. And all of the musical works gathered together on this CD, each in its own way, propose to represent or ponder on this baffling mystery.

The disc opens with a dramatic and driven account of a passage from Jan Dismas Zelenka's Miserere, as strong a case in point when it comes to religious outcries of fear on the suffering one must endure to attain afterlife bliss. A master stroke from the Baroque period that rivals anything by Handel or Bach. And speaking of Bach, a collection like this wouldn't be complete without some of his best music. After all the great Bach organist Helmut Walcha once said: "Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all." So his aria Ich habe genug fits right in, especially when sung to perfection here by soprano Shannon Mercer. The choral adaptation of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, the Agnus Dei, always stirs strong emotions and honors life by looking back on its past. The Arvo Pärt Da Pacem Nomine, which through very simple harmonic progressions, manages to take on cosmic proportions. Even the quirky but yet reflective Prélude by Matthias Maute himself fits right in. And best of all, one of my all-time favorite works, and the piece that I believe truly encapsulates all the conundrums, paradoxes and enigmas of life, The Unanswered Question by Charles Ives. Simultaneously so, so simple and yet extremely profound. Ives gave this piece the subtitle of A Consideration of a Serious Matter which is used as the subtitle for this CD. Over an evocative, slowly moving, harmonically lush string orchestra, a lone trumpet at well paced intervals, utters a five note motif (the question) seven times. Following each of the first six attempts, he receives increasingly angry and agitated replies from a small group of wind instruments, which in the end never satisfy his quest for the right answer. After the seventh try, dead silence. The answer is probably there all along, hidden within the bedrock of beautiful harmonies emanating from the string orchestra. This is a goosebump enducing piece of music that always leaves me slack-jawed at every listen.

Most collections of this kind always bring out, ad infinitum, the old standards like the Pachelbel Canon or Bach's Air, and/or meander within composers so disparate in style as to lose focus and therefore lose one's attentive listening span over time. In this collection on the other hand, the pieces are so well matched as to reinforce each other's impact on the listener. They generate a cumulative effect of mystery and awe.

The Ensemble Caprice Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Matthias Maute see Bach review here, deliver impactful and thoughtful accounts of all of these works. This recording deservedly gets a 10. And if it wasn't for the fact that I feel the Barber is just a bit too fast, I would even consider awarding it an 11.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2013