Kronos Quartet / Terry Riley

Terry Riley: Requiem for Adam

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

This may be the single most powerful piece of music that the Kronos Quartet has ever recorded, and perhaps that Terry Riley has ever written. This is because Requiem for Adam is so personal, so direct, and experiential. Requiem for Adam was written after the death of Kronos violinist David Harrignton's son. He died, in 1995, at the age of 16, from an aneurysm in his coronary artery. Riley, who is very close to the Harringtons and has a son the same age, has delved deep into the experience of death and resurrection, or, at the very least, transmutation. Requiem for Adam is written in three parts, or movements. The first, "Ascending the Heaven Ladder," is based on a four-note pattern that re-harmonizes itself as it moves up the scale. There are many variations and series based on each of these notes and their changing harmonics, and finally a 5/4 dance as it moves to the highest point on the strings. The drone-like effect is stunning when the listener realizes that the drone is changing shape too, ascending the scale, moving ever upward and taking part in the transmutation of harmony. There are no blustery passages of 32nd notes only gorgeous arco phrases shimmering away as the harmonics transform the piece of music form an ascent to a near pastoral acceptance of the highest realization linguistically. The second movement, "Coretejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo," is full of electronic music, horns, bells, and percussion that slam around in the background. This is a sampled soundtrack for the quartet, but it is integral in moving the focus of movement panoramically, expanding it across vistas instead of making it a vertical relationship between soul and the divine. It is cacophonous and almost celebratory. Riley refers to it as funeral music that might be heard in New Orleans, and he's almost right. Still there are classical canonical funereal figures here, like a Deus Irae that is somehow kinked up, offbeat, sideways, but nonetheless very present. In title movement, number three, plucked strings move against sliding harmonics and two long pulse notes stretch into almost impossible duration and intensity. These give way to funky dance figures, almost bluesy as a coda that moves toward an ever more frenzied articulation of theme and variation of the coda. There are graceful lines tacked on, almost as cadenzas for the strings to come back to themselves and their dovetailing roles, but they just take off again in search of that 7/8 polyrhythmic cadence again which gives way to a high register harmonics and finally a statement of the two-note pulse found at the beginning of the piece. It's the most complex quartet Riley has yet composed, and easily his most satisfying. The disc closes with "The Philosopher's Hand," a solo piano piece played by Riley. Riley was asked by Harrington to improvise a piece while thinking of Pandit Pran Nath, Riley's musical and spiritual teacher who passed in 1996. Riley claims that Pran Nath had come to Adam's funeral and held David Harrington's hand, which, Harrington remarked, was the softest hand he'd ever felt. The piece reflects all of these: the softness, the deep regret of Adam and Pran Nath's passing, and most of all of Riley's remembering, which is filtered through the anguish and beauty of the human heart. It's more than a whispering close to an already astonishing recording: it's the end of the world, and the beginning of the next, or at least the evidence that music can almost deliver this much.

blue highlight denotes track pick