For many, many years I have avoided the music of Charles Wuorinen, not from any real aversion to the music, but from the prejudice that he was nothing more than a brilliant student of Milton Babbitt who did rather similar music, witty, but dry and academic. The few Wuorinen works I'd heard in concert in the 70s had solidified this opinion. But recently, I've become more interested in serial composers from that period and decided to make a new acquaintance with the composer. Imagine my surprise to discover that, far from being a dry clone of Babbitt, Wuorinen is passionate, energetic, and deeply spiritual music. I am quite taken.
The Mass for the Restoration of St. Luke's In The Fields was written for the rededication of this Episcopal Church in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. A joint choir of St. Luke's and St. Ignatius of Antioch premiered it. The work is meant for liturgical use, but only by a fine parish choir. Scored to choir, organ, trombones and violin, the Mass resembles nothing so much as the late work of Stravinsky. There is almost an air of the Renaissance in the work, though it is thoroughly serial. Wuorinen's serial music is rigorous, but points out the fallacy of considering 12 tone music "atonal". Tonalities slip in and out of the ear with great frequency, but they are there nonetheless. The Kyrie is a very moving movement, The Gloria as exuberant a 12 tone piece as I have ever heard, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are hushed and spiritual, and there is a beautiful communion motet in English. There are also two instrumental movements that one presumes must function as prelude and postlude. All-in-all this is an amazing piece of liturgical music...highly modern and yet completely appropriate for worship.
The second major work on the disc is Genesis, an oratorio for choir and orchestra. Texts to this work are mostly in Latin and taken from texts which refer to the creation story. The musical idiom is more dissonant and conventionally 12 tone, but the vibrant rhythms and strong melodic profile make this an astounding work, perhaps the strongest oratorio written in the last 20 years. And in the final section, where the choir begins an extended "alleluia" the material is ecstatic....a strange but true description for this 12 tone work.
The smaller works are quite charming as well. The motet is lovely, very much of a piece with the idiom of the Mass. The piano work is more unusual. It is a subtle reworking or piano of a motet by Josquin, one which does nothing more than to create a true piano work out of the choir work.
This is a tremendous disc. Highly recommended.