Telarc's album of music of remembrance has as its centerpiece John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls and includes Barber's Adagio for Strings in its string orchestra and choral versions, John Corigliano's 1965 Elegy, and the first recording of Jennifer Higdon's Dooryard Bloom. Perhaps outstanding among Adams' achievements in his work is that it does not trivialize the events of 9/11. Its visceral impact is virtually impossible to separate from the event it memorializes; it may be decades, or generations, until it can be heard with any objectivity. For those for whom the memory of 9/11 is raw and vivid, Adams' piece has the power to evoke a tumult of memories and emotions that can leave the listener drained. The ultimate impression that it leaves, though, is one in which love prevails.
Nonesuch was wise in its premiere recording of the work in 2004 to release it on a CD by itself, even though it lasts only 25 minutes. It's easy to understand Telarc's impulse to include it in a collection of elegiac music of solemn recollection, but its specific gravity gives it a weight that makes it seem out of place paired with the undeniably lovely, lyrical, neo-Romantic works that take up the rest of the disc. Surprisingly, even the choral version of the exquisite Barber Adagio that closes the disc comes across with diminished impact, following in the wake of the Adams. Jennifer Higdon's hugely ambitious Dooryard Bloom, a setting of a large section of Whitman's lament for Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," is written for a soloist who sings almost without break for 24 minutes. It's a daunting task, because there are simply so many words so densely packed with meanings that even the most attentive audience would have difficulty absorbing them and maintaining focus. Higdon's vocal writing is consistently lyrical, but the piece lacks the kind of purposeful and comprehensible structure, emotional clarity, and memorable musical gestures that give similar works, like Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Adams' The Wound Dresser, such enduring power. It ultimately has the effect of an earnest meandering, lovely in its details, but lacking a sense of direction. Robert Spano, leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Choruses and the Gwinnett Young Singers in impassioned performances of each of the pieces, and baritone Nmon Ford sings the Whitman narrative with fervor. The sound is spectacularly clear and atmospheric.