Jonathan Elias,
with various artists,
The Prayer Cycle
(Sony Classical, 1999)

When this particular CD first crossed my desk about a year ago, I couldn't imagine what it would sound like. The list of musicians is staggering, and more than a bit eclectic. Alanis Morissette, James Taylor, Salif Keita, Perry Farrell, John Williams, Linda Ronstadt, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the American Boychoir and the English Chamber Orchestra and Chorus -- what on earth could this group of people have collaborated on? To my surprise, and something that still holds true a year later, they collaborated on the most incredibly beautiful, purely spiritual recording I have ever heard.

The Prayer Cycle isn't classical music, although many classical stations across the country have embraced it. It isn't world music, or new age. It's timeless, an expression of the human spirit, bringing together some of the most unforgettable performers of our lifetime to celebrate the truly universal language of music.

There are nine movements in this work, composed by Jonathan Elias. Mercy, Strength, Hope, Compassion, Grace, Innocence, Forgiveness, Benediction and Faith. The composer wrote the poems for each movement, and the performers then interpreted them in their own way, in many different languages and chants. Each movement is, well, a prayer, taking the listener through a lifetime of emotional experiences. This performance will bring you to tears over and over again, reminding us of the simplicity and beauty of life, carrying us to a place of majesty and holiness that we so often lose.

Each movement is supported and enhanced by the English Chamber Orchestra, but the choral and vocal performances take center stage. Alanis Morissette is stunning, her voice providing strength and a surreal beauty to the music. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in one of the last projects of his life, surpasses himself in his offerings. Devin Provenzano, the boy soprano prodigy, is like the voice of an angel, bringing light and innocence to the masses so desperately searching for something beyond them. The list goes on and on. Each performer brings his or her own spirituality to the whole, showing us that we don't need to be divided, and that all of can truly live together as a whole.

[ by Crystal Kocher ]

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