The five movements of The Desert Music that make up 46 of this recording's 60 minutes are the hybrid fruit of Reich's desire to set the poetry of William Carlos Williams to relatively minimalist music under the inspiration of California and New Mexico deserts notorious for their associations with nuclear weaponry. For those unfamiliar with the nuclear-annihilation hysteria widespread when this music was first unveiled in the early '80s, the orchestra and chorus create a reasonable facsimile. Those unfamiliar with Williams should probably start with his collected poems.
The skeleton of the first four movements of this 51-minute excursion into intensified minimalism is a folk ballad, first published in 1656, that recounts the murder of one sister by another due to sexual jealousy. In terms of giving voice to such turbulent and inchoate emotions as must have driven the homicidal sister, the music succeeds to an almost excruciatingly frightening extent. Whether the equally harrowing last five parts ("Fuel") will affect anyone's attitude toward the far more abstract and trendy concept of "globalization" remains to be seen.
The 24-year-old soprano Hayley Westenra has been labeled "classical crossover" because of her repertoire and because what she really is, a "21st-century Petula Clark," is a label that would probably go over most people's heads. The 83-year-old composer Ennio Morricone has been labeled the greatest soundtrack composer of all time because of his work's quantity but mostly because of its quality. Some of his "greatest hits," lyricized, are here, but he also composed afresh for Westenra, who does the pieces justice when they're not doing justice to her.
"In Greek myth," writes Paul Griffiths in the liner notes, "Manto was Teiresias's daughter and, like her father-mother, a prophetess; it is fitting that music honoring her should . . . emerge through the smoke of microtonal inflections, slowly darkening colours and sustained dissonances." That, in a nutshell, is all one need know of this challenging recording-and that the inflections, colors, and dissonances result from Zehetmair's violin and Killlius' viola, each of which is as attuned to the other's muse as any prophecy-seeking lover of stringed instruments could want.
Apparently deemed too highbrow by the bookers of U.S. theaters located in flyover country, the latest cinematic rendition of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre has become one of the more difficult-to-see films of 2011. But happily anyone can enjoy Dario Marianelli's original motion-picture soundtrack (Sony Masterworks). If at 44 minutes the 19 cuts fall 71 minutes short of the film itself (not to mention the time it takes to read the novel), it is amorphous enough (in a mostly good way) to survive being put on "repeat" and serve whatever purpose the serious Brontë admirer would put it to.
Perhaps "brooding" describes the music best. And, given the novel's serious themes, "brooding" is appropriate. One doesn't undergo the glory of suffering beaten into him (or in Jane Eyre's case, her) without pondering the meaning of the process. For that process' more rigorous stretches, there's Bach. For the inevitable cool-down periods required by the flesh, there's Marianelli.