Riley: Requiem for Adam; The Philosopher’s Hand

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LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Requiem for Adam; The Philosopher’s Hand
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet; Terry Riley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79639-2
In 1995 Adam Harrington, son of the Kronos Quartet’s leader David Harrington, died suddenly at the age of 16. Terry Riley – a long-term collaborator with Kronos and friend of David Harrington – composed Requiem for Adam as an expression of personal grief. Great emotion doesn’t guarantee great music; in fact it can be creatively inhibiting. But Riley’s experience of death and loss seems to have sharpened his imagination. To those who know Riley from his minimalist classic In C (1964), parts of Requiem for Adam will seem lush and extravagant in comparison. True, as with most minimalist music, the basic technique here is one of variation – the music evolving in regular cycles rather than generating tension through dramatic opposition. But the range of colour, texture and rhythm is far from minimal. So, too, is the range of feeling: from sombre elegy through exhilarating dance to final ethereal calm. I liked the electronically enhanced central movement least – the synthesised grotesquerie seemed a bit tame compared to what Kronos achieve when left to themselves. Still, Requiem for Adam is a striking piece. Like Steve Reich’s Different Trains or John Adams’s The Chairman Dances it shows what can be achieved when a composer moves on from minimalism. Stephen Johnson