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Samuel Adler: To Speak to Our Time

Lucia Lin, Julianne Lee (violin); Gloriae Dei Cantores Choir/Richard K Pugsley; SharonRose Pfeiffer (organ) (Gloriae Dei Cantores)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Samuel Adler
To Speak to Our Time; Choral Trilogy; Psalm 23, etc
Lucia Lin, Julianne Lee (violin); Gloriae Dei Cantores Choir/Richard K Pugsley; SharonRose Pfeiffer (organ)
Gloriae Dei Cantores GDCD 066  49:10 mins

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In an American career stretching over 70 years, composing seems to have become as necessary as breathing for German-born Samuel Adler (b1928). Out the notes flow in one work after another – works hopping about stylistically, but always staying busy and effervescent, bubbling with the life force. The present album dips into his reservoir of choral music, strongly coloured by his Jewish heritage, though able to give us all useful pause for contemplation.

The most eloquent piece is To Speak to Our Time, written in 2018 to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms in Nazi Germany, experienced first hand by the ten-year old Adler in Mannheim. Texts in Hebrew, German and English lead the unaccompanied voices on a winding, chromatic and fervent journey from anguish and pain towards hopes for peace and reconciliation, criss-crossed with reflective interludes by two violins.

Other pieces here, anthems and psalm settings, are almost as highly charged. There are some drawbacks. One is the choral writing’s relatively thick textures, only partially eased by organ interventions, the two duetting violins, or the seven handbells magically featured in Let Us Rejoice. Adler’s chromatic porridge isn’t made any lighter or more varied by vocal articulations and a Massachusetts church acoustic that combine to smudge the outline of too many words, whatever their language. Still, moving simplicity finally breaks through in the last track, How Sweet the Sound, a winning arrangement of the old Christian hymn Amazing Grace. Grace indeed.

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Geoff Brown