Adams Orchestral Works/Actes Sud C

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 10

John Adams is perhaps the only minimalist left who is still coming up with good ideas. At the very least he has demonstrated that there is more to minimalism than mere staccato repetitiveness (Philip Glass, especially in his symphonies) or the repetition of simple melodies or sequences that long outlive their welcome (Steve Reich’s dreadful and terrifying The Cave is a good example of this). This release by the French label Actes Sud has taken works from the last three decades of John Adams’ career that show this composer’s versatility and inventiveness. Best are Fearful Symmetries of 1988 and his Chamber Symphony of 1992.

There are no themes, as such, in Fearful Symmetries. Instead, Adams announces his ideas and frames them in odd meters, and this in turn creates some very interesting syncopations, all of which verge on atonality–an aspect of Adams’ work that separates him from both Glass and Reich. The Chamber Symphony is more courageously atonal and often goofy, as in the first movement where the cello goes one way, the violins another, and the brasses and winds do their own thing, with each instrument group playing in a different key. In many ways the Chamber Symphony is a throwback to the jazz-oriented experiments of the 1930s, particularly among the French (the middle symphonies of Darius Milhaud come to mind.)

The remaining works on this disc are more problematic. Four Songs from Adams’ musical, I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, aren’t sung particularly well. Emmanuel Djob’s voice in “A sermon on romance”, the second song, is grating and strained while the voices of the women, Virginie Pesch and Odile Fargere, are much too weak to project above the orchestra. And Christian Zeal and Activity merely seems like filler. Still, the major works here are very much worth the price of admission.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

JOHN ADAMS - Fearful Symmetries; Chamber Symphony; Four Songs; Christian Zeal and Activity

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