Saint Louis SO,
cond. David Robertson.
Nonesuch 468220-2, 47:04.
Review by Steve
I didn't have high
hopes for this disc on two counts. One, I am a fair-weather fan of John Adams.
I loved his solo piano work Phrygian Gates when it first appeared on
vinyl, and yet found myself instinctively compelled - I'm ashamed to say this
- to join a chorus of booing at the première of Grand Pianola Music.
(At the time, I felt an immediate need for insulin; now, I can admire it as
grandly humorous, and rich as a many-layered cake with lots and lots of frosting.
I'm not fond of cake.) Two, I am so passionate about the opera Doctor Atomic
that I found it hard to accept the idea of some of the music divorced from the
opera; something would surely be lacking. Despite a few episodes of langueur,
the opera is riveting, majestic and brings out strong emotions.
I'm strangely moved
by the power of Doctor Atomic Symphony. For one thing, the Doctor
Atomic Symphony is the exemplar of how far Adams has taken 'process music'
and integrated minimalist moves within the larger landscape of orchestral music.
His orchestration summons flavors colorful as Ravel, dark as Mussorgsky, as
grand as Mahler.
Guide To Strange
Places is another strong Adams work, if somewhat typical and easily identifiable
as his work. He again demonstrates a skillful and varied hand at orchestration.
It opens with strings sawing and swirling punctuated, rather, propelled by slashes
of basses and low horns, then tinkles and trumpets atop. It's a whirligig of
movement. Other parts slam chunks of hard material at busy-bird Messiaen-ic
The booklet includes
the best-written and informative liner notes, by Jeremy Denk, I've seen in a
long while. It presents a blow-by-blow technical and descriptive analysis of
both works which any layman can understand. Discussing Guide, he explains
moto perpetuo as "a kind of compositional fetish: music that depends upon
a constant motoric rhythm." All the musicians of the Saint Louis Orchestra
are credited by name. Highly recommended.