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John Adams

John Adams

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This recording presents one of the most lucid and well-programmed portraits of john Adams to emerge, well, in a long while.

In this program, Paavo Järvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich celebrate a composer of our time with works from different periods and citing a wide range of references, whether autobiographical or typically American. John Adams has assimilated numerous musical influences, and his personal style cannot be reduced to one of them: he is neither Minimalist, nor post-Minimalist, nor neo-Romantic. Some of his works can of course be said to belong to one or other of these movements, but he does not consider himself to be the representative of any particular tendency. If he refers to musical tradition in his works, it is always in a critical way and at the same time open to the influences of pop music, rock, and jazz.


Paavo Järvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich mightn’t be the first pairing one associates with the music of John Adams. But, as their new album – simply titled John Adams – attests, they’ve pretty much got the iconic American composer’s style down pat.

Rhythmically, the Swiss band really digs into the proceedings here. That’s especially true of their account of Lollapalooza, a whimsical 1995 curtain-raiser dedicated to Simon Rattle. Järvi’s tempo is notably slower than either Kent Nagano’s or Michael Tilson Thomas’s, yet, if the reading is less overtly edgy, it’s perhaps jazzier than its forebears. And it certainly doesn’t want for energy or textural clarity.

Similar qualities mark Slonimsky’s Earbox, another mid-‘90s effort. It’s brilliantly energetic, yes, but Järvi’s command of its structure is the real story: this is as coherent a Slonimsky as has been played, clearly drawing on all the threads of Adams’ style up to about 1996 while also suggesting what was to come in pieces like Naïve and Sentimental Music and Son of Chamber Symphony.

Also, My Father Knew Charles Ives, Adams’ semi-autobiographical 2003 tone poem that, last year, was the highlight of a disc from the Nashville Symphony. Järvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester are, generally, a bit more relaxed in their tempos than their counterparts in Tennessee, especially in the first movement. But the performance never slogs; rather, it overflows with atmosphere and color.

Rounding things out is a carefully-balanced account of Adams’ 1986 fanfare Tromba lontana. Perhaps less familiar than its more vigorous companion piece, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Tromba lontana, with its delicately dancing textures, potently complements My Father Knew Charles Ives.

The end result is one of the most lucid and well-programmed portraits of Adams to emerge, well, in a long while. As such, it’s an excellent way to mark the composer’s 75th birthday this year – or just his general contributions to contemporary music, which, as this disc reminds, have been anything but commonplace or predictable.

-- The Arts Fuse (Jonathan Blumhofer)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Alpha
    • UPC/Barcode: 3760014198748
    • Item Number: ALPHA874