A polyglot, two-hour oratorio on a nativity theme, El NiÑo stands as John Adams' most ambitious composition to date and perhaps his most humanistic—it's his "Messiah," as he has said, a

A polyglot, two-hour oratorio on a nativity theme, El Niño stands as John Adams' most ambitious composition to date and perhaps his most humanistic—it's his "Messiah," as he has said, a grandly inclusive vocal work steeped in spiritual drama and sonic colors that explode his already-expanded brand of minimalism. With much Hispanic poetry mixed in with Biblical texts and some English verse, the words give the work—even though the oratorio is an Old World form—a decidedly New World flavor. This two-disc set was recorded at the premiere run of El Niño last December in Paris, which came in a semi-staged production by Peter Sellars that included acting singers, dancers, and film. The vocal soloists are each absolutely ideal, and the orchestra and chorus play this undoubtedly taxing, if inspiring, score with remarkable precision for conductor Kent Nagano. El Niño may end up being one of Adams' most-performed works going forward. Michael Steinberg's excellent notes set the stage.—BB

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