John Adams may well be near the forefront of British readers'
minds after his excellent performance conducting his own work
-- including the eight piano concerto at this year’s Proms (21
particular disc forms part of the commendable and burgeoning
'American Classics' series from Naxos. It illustrates the breadth
of this composer's interests. The piano works here contrast
with some of his better-known pieces for large ensemble. Its
contents span most of his career to date, although there is
a focus on early works. Difficult pieces are played with aplomb
by these accomplished musicians: and both pianists have a clear
enthusiasm for their task.
Gates was Adams' first work in the minimalist style
for which he has become known. Phrygian Gates, written
a year later, is a longer and fuller development of the same
structural ideas, although it lacks the lightness of touch which
characterises the earlier work. The term ‘gate’ is a reference
to an electronic device enabling sudden changes in the direction
of current and draws an analogy with the sudden changes of tonal
colour which characterise these works.
Junction, a duet for
two pianos, reflects the influence of growing up playing the
clarinet in his father's marching band and an interest in jazz
and popular music. American Berserk, described by the
composer as a 'short, manic, bipolar scherzo' - perhaps reminiscent
of the better known Short Ride in a Fast Machine - is
his most recent work for solo piano.
is regarded as having a firmly minimalist approach but one which
is less pure than some of his contemporaries, such as Phillip
Glass in particular. Certainly it is more tonal and expressive.
This disc, although of historical and musicological significance
and finely performed, does not show his music at its most accessible
and in fact might be described as ‘dense’ or as ‘hardcore minimalism’
- at least by Adams' standards. Interestingly, the earliest
piece, China Gates, is arguably the easiest to listen
to and the most straightforward in appeal.
recording is likely to interest completists, those with an academic
interest in American music and those with a particular concern
for minimalist piano writing. It is unusual for Adams' music
to seem difficult, but this is one of those rare occasions.