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adam guettel:
 myths and hymns (nonesuch)

What makes music great?   I would propose that it must be original, something with which you are able to identify, and extremely well executed.  After you listen to great music, you should experience a "wow" deep in your soul.  Myths and Hymns is just such a CD and it literally took my breath away.

It's no surprise when you learn that the composer, Adam Guettel, is the grandson of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame).  However, Guettel has clearly found his own way in the world of music.  After graduating from Yale University, winning Yale's Concerto Competition, and a 1990 Stephen Sondheim Award winner, Guettel has gone on to compose musical scores for PBS and CBS television documentaries, provide underscores for both animated short and full-length feature films, and created a concerto for jazz quartet and orchestra.  However, he did not garner much attention in the music world until the premiere of his first musical in 1994, Floyd Collins.

With the success of Floyd Collins, Guettel moved on to create music for a Broadway-style/classical concert named Saturn Returns.  The name of the concert refers to the 29-year cycle that Saturn takes around the sun, considered a time of reassessment.  Sixteen songs from that concert were selected for the CD that eventually became "Myths and Hymns." The songs were inspired by various Greek legends and songs Guettel found in a hymnal from a second-hand bookstore (who says God doesn't have a sense of humor).

Although the songs have vastly different subject matters, they coalesce into a wonderful song-cycle dealing with life issues from a fresh approach.  The wide variation in voices on the CD also contribute to a sense of varied views on redemption, falls from grace, consequences of our decisions, and aspects of love.  The song Saturn Returns near the beginning of the cycle is my favorite with pure poetry like "Long ago I tasted something sweet.  It's an echo, it's a memory in retreat."  The song deals with losing an important part of your life, wanting to get it back, and not knowing how.  The remainder of the CD offers different views on how that void can be filled.  Sadly, though the work is brilliant in its conception and execution, it completely misses the mark for any real answers.

For MaH, Guettel was able to draw some highly respected talent from the Broadway world such as Audra McDonald (Best Actress Tony for Ragtime, several solo CD projects) and Mandy Patinkin (several Broadway shows, the TV show Chicago Hope, and most famously Montoya in The Princess Bride).  With all the "star" power behind this CD, one would think you might have heard of it before.  I consider it an extremely lucky find with all the mediocre music on the market.  Take a risk and enjoy this secret gem.

Charlie Bradshaw

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