Rob Gardner's oratorio on the life of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith will be regarded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an eloquent and inspirational work, though others outside that denomination may find this pious tribute blandly derivative of the mid-twentieth century Americana style and lacking in variety and drama over its nearly 67-minute duration. Gardner is clearly a lyrical composer who has a genuine knack for sweeping melodies, glowing orchestration, and swelling climaxes, which underscore the narrative of Smith's life in an evocative manner. Because the framework is presentational, spoken accounts are interspersed with folk-like songs, and the piece resembles a modern, hieratic Passion. Gardner alternates between epic and elegiac tones throughout, except for the short sections recounting Smith's persecution and death, where heavy percussion is effectively used. In this regard, one wishes Gardner's mostly diatonic harmonic vocabulary were richer, and that he would have used strong dissonances to represent the violence of the mob. The large ad hoc body of singers and instrumentalists is conducted by the composer, and the live performance in Abravanel Hall is plainly well rehearsed and fully committed, with great energy and emotion from the speakers and vocal soloists. The sound of this 2007 recording is deep, warm, and quite loud, with ample resonance to give the musicians credible presence.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Joseph Smith the Prophet, for soloists, chorus & orchestra|