Take two great Italian Baroque composers (Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Zipoli), place the music of the former at the lips of a great 20th-century Italian flautist (Gazzelloni) and the music of the latter at the fingertips of a great 20th-century Italian organist (Tagliavini), and abandon despair, all ye who enter. About Scarlatti at this late date, little need be said. About Zipoli, let it be noted that he was a Jesuit missionary—and that his compositions honor the Jesuit motto, “For the Greater Glory of God.”
The male voice that narrates these 16 compositions for solo piano is as unnecessary as it is obtrusive, tainting Gilley’s otherwise fascinating transubstantiation of biblically Edenic themes into musical impressionism with the patina of over-explicit sermon points. The titles alone (“In the Beginning God,” “Cherubims and the Flaming Sword”) would’ve sufficed to make sure listeners got the point. Fortunately, the spoken bits are brief enough to ignore, leaving a sense of being at play in the fields of the Lord that only turns dark after “The Fall.”
Pigeonhole Jarrett as a “jazz” improvisor, and this newly reissued 1976 recording will drive you nuts. Grant that his improvisations inherently defy categorization, however, and you’ll hear something majestic. Ensconced at the “larger of the two Karl Joseph Riepp (1719-1775) Organs at the Benedictine Abbey Ottobeuren,” the then 31-year-old Miles Davis alumnus got in touch with his inner (non-Thelonius) monk and bore down something not so much fierce as fiercely reverent. At his most coherent, he sounds enraptured. At his least, he’s fumbling heavenward.
The repetitiveness of Martynov’s “Beatitudes” not only echoes Christ’s repeated “Blessed are,” but it also allows the sub-themes to unfold so gradually that one barely notices the climax until its subsumption in the resolution calls attention to its having passed. And if the anguished patience with which “Der Abschied” (“The Farewell”) proceeds makes it seem longer than its 40 minutes, knowing that it’s the Russian composer’s memorial to his father’s refusal to go gentle into that good night almost makes it seem not long enough.
The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was born on Sept. 11, 1935. In 2011, he was appointed a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture by the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI. Pärt is no ordinary musical conduit, and the latest recording of his works—Adam’s Lament (ECM)—is no ordinary Arvo Pärt album. Almost frighteningly intense, it could restore the awesomeness of God to its rightfully unique place among the experiences that sentient beings can endure.
The 24-minute title piece is, of course, the centerpiece. But one needn’t be conversant with its Eastern Orthodox specifics to appreciate its common grace any more than one need simply know that the “Alleluia” of the two-minute, 41-second “Alleluia Tropus” means “Praise the Lord.” The stateliness, the majesty—even Pärt’s 12-minute “Salve Regina” will touch non-Catholics who remember that from the cross Jesus bequeathed Mary to John and thus to every beloved disciple.