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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Chesky
WORKS: The Agnostic
PERFORMER: Hana Štolfová-Bandová (alto), Ján Durco (baritone), Andrej Mackovich (treble); Slovak PO & Choir/Stephen Somary
According to the PR blurb, The Agnostic is a new oratorio which ‘synthesises the existential philosophies of the last century into a powerful hymn for modern-day man’. It soon becomes clear there’s rather more of Nietzsche than Sartre in Chesky’s text, which tells us that ‘God is what divides us from the Divine’, thunders ‘Cowards, transcend yourselves’ and ends ‘what a man thinks he can become’. It needs all the eloquence of a Nietzsche to make the übermensch philosophy inspiring, but all too often Chesky’s words sink to management-guru banality (‘Don’t look for easy answers’). The music is as unremittingly earnest and leaden as the text. So many movements begin with a portentous low note I began to wonder if my CD player was stuck on the first track. Only the fanciest recording technology could measure up to this profundity, of course, and the booklet note boasts of the 50-db range 96 Khz/24 bit 6-channel recording, warning that ‘the dynamic range of the recording may cause speaker or amplifier damage’ – proving that the argument for Agnosticism has punch in every sense. In fact what strikes you about the recording is its boxy, dull quality – though you can still tell the Czech performers are singing their hearts out. Ivan Hewett