Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

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COMPOSERS: Adams
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary
WORKS: The Gospel According to the Other Mary
PERFORMER: Kelley O’Connor (mezzo-soprano); Tamara Mumford (contralto); Russell Thomas (tenor); Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings (countertenor); Los Angeles Master Chorale; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 2243

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There is no overture to The Gospel According to the Other Mary, no chorus to set the scene. John Adams’s passion oratorio opens with a frenzied retort to the gentle lullaby that closes his nativity oratorio, El Niño. Taken from the autobiography of the social activist, Dorothy Day, Mary Magdalene’s words tumble thick and fast in an outraged first-person account of arrest, strip-search and imprisonment alongside a drug addict in violent withdrawal.

Some things are familiar here: the interplay of Biblical verse and visionary poetry, political engagement and religious ritual, and the trio of countertenors (Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, Nathan Medley) who narrate and intercede between heaven and earth, ancient and modern. Some things are new: the skeletal jittering of a cimbalom amid Adams’s signature dazzle of strings and ecstatic brass, and two crowd-scenes in which the voices of the Los Angeles Master Chorale roar like souls in torment.

Miracles are violent and terrifying, with the resurrection of Lazarus (heroic Russell Thomas) a rehearsal for Christ’s resurrection. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor is an impactful Magdalene – unruly, extravagantly passionate. Contralto Tamara Mumford has mesmerising beauty and depth of tone. Under Gustavo Dudamel, the Los Angeles Philharmonic play with blistering force. Much as The Gospel seems to start rather than begin, it stops instead of ending. A cooler performance might reveal more.

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Anna Picard