Composers: Mason Bates, Vaughan Williams
Compositions: Children of Adam, Dona Nobis Pacem
Performers: Richmond Symphony & Chorus/Steven Smith
Catalogue Number: Reference Recordings FR732
Mason Bates (b. 1977) is an American composer, known for experimenting with electronics, jazz, and other crossover areas with mainstream classical music. However, his large choral work Children of Adam, about the Christian myth of creation is straightforward and traditionally tonal. The choral writing is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, whose well known Dona Nobis Pacem is the coupling.
Like most young composers, Bates’ command of orchestral texture is colourful and assured. In the choral sections, he sets poets such as Whitman, Sandburg, and the long passage from Genesis about the creation of the world. My favourite segment is the dance-like setting of Psalms 144 and 128, with their quirky percussion. Woodblock and other sharp sounds suggests we may have underestimated the contribution to the world’s creation made by woodpeckers. When it comes to Genesis, the music becomes more predictably triumphal, with broad brass chorales, and unison melodic lines from the excellent Richmond Symphony Choir.
Vaughan Williams’ earlier work (1936), one of his loveliest, receives a strong performance. Conductor Steven Smith gets the flow just right, and both soloists are suitably dramatic. These performances were recorded live. Reference Recordings’ much praised sound is as exciting and realistic as ever.