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CD Review

John Adams

The Gospel According to the Other Mary

  • Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano (Mary Magdalene)
  • Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano (Martha)
  • Russell Thomas, tenor (Lazarus)
  • Nathan Medley, countertenor
  • Daniel Bubeck, countertenor
  • Brian Cummings, countertenor
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Gustavo Dudamel
Deutsche Grammophon 4792243 2CDs 133:03
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Well, this is different. Some have called it "a Passion Play in all but name", other critics "almost an opera", while I'm sure others will see it is an oratorio. It's certainly a fascinating concept, even if a noted critic pointed out that "the other Mary" was in fact the mother of James. Adams and Peter Sellars can be forgiven though, because if you ask people who the "other Mary" is, quite a few would say Mary Magdalene. Lazarus and Martha also appear, as well as men called simply "Countertenors". No matter how you feel about the premise, there is some outstanding playing, singing, and text-setting here. For a lack of a better term, this is cool music.

And the industry's coolest conductor is at the helm, happily, in Los Angeles and not, say, Berlin. He's working with huge forces, a massive chorus, and some very strange music, and so is unsurprisingly on excellent form. All the pathos and fervor that was utterly absent from his Strauss disc is in abundance here. Dudamel leads this sprawling musical drama with full confidence in his players and singers, and it pays off big time. Adams has often been criticized for his operatic accomplishments after Nixon in China, but Dudamel and his charges clearly believe that the great composer can still teach us something new in large forms. More importantly, so did Adams; this is worth a listen even if you're not a new music fan. Sure, some of the music tends to go on for a bit longer than it needs to, and people looking for a genuinely religious experience are probably not in the right place. That said, it does put a new twist on the idea of the Passion Play, and assuredly features great excitement and emotional depth. All the soloists sing well, the Los Angeles Philharmonic maintains a gold standard in the contemporary field, and Dudamel again gives us a real reason to take interest in his very real talents. Exceptionally worthwhile.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman