John ADAMS (b.1947)
Road Movies (1995)* [16:12]
John’s Book of Alleged Dances (excerpts) (1994) [19:16]
Shaker Loops (1978) [24:50]
Angèle Dubeau (violin)
Louise Bessett (piano)*
rec. November-December 2010, Multi-Media Room, Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
ANALEKTA AN 2 8732 [60:26]
Highly impressed by Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà’s Portrait of Arvo Pärt, I needed little persuasion to have a punt at this superb team’s take on John Adams’ entirely different but equally attractive work.
As before, this is more than just a John Adams sampler, though the string quartet John’s Book of Alleged Dances is not presented in its entirety. By quite a long way the best known work here is Shaker Loops, which I first encountered on the Philips Classics label played by the San Francisco Symphony with Edo de Waart. La Pietà’s recording has a crisper, more ‘chamber’ perspective when compared to the string swathes of the San Francisco Symphony, having something more of the energetic character of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop on Naxos. I find her faster movements a bit too tumultuous for their own good, through the emotional connection in the more tender inner ones is lovely. La Pietà’s advantages are in their clarity of sound, though the solo lines are rather cooler in the Loops and Verses movement, where Alsop creates a tear-jerking lament in the slow early section. There is a certain amount of minimalist scrubbing later on in this movement, and La Pietà maintain an almost ‘early music’ lightness of touch, creating the necessary ‘storm scene’ effect but retaining a tightness of ensemble and variety of dynamics which keeps the textures interesting. This is a Shaker Loops with impressive impact as well as a strong sense of refinement, and comes highly recommended in an already competitive field.
The other pieces are less familiar, and the only other recording of Road Movies for violin and piano I know is a fine recording by Jennifer Koh and Reiko Uchida on the Cedille label. This is very good, but Dubeau and Louise Bessett are better co-ordinated in the massively rhythmic first movement Relaxed Groove and more convincing in the intensely jazzy 40% Swing finale. They also have a more sympathetically resonant acoustic, which helps with the magical atmosphere of the slow central movement, entitled just Meditative. If you like John Adams and don’t know this piece then you owe it to yourself to have it on your shelves. It’s a chamber-music stunner, with all of the vigour of ‘Short Ride on a Fast Machine’, with plenty of driving ostinato rhythms and patterns and rich harmonic variety.
John’s Book of Alleged Dances is described as “an essentially playful collection of clockwork etudes for string quartet” in Lucie Renaud’s booklet notes. This is an Adams work entirely new to me other than a brief taster in the fourth movement, Pavane: She’s So Fine included on The Smith Quartet’s interesting Dance album on the Signum Classics label, though there is a complete recording by the Kronos Quartet on the Nonesuch label. The movements presented here are a remarkable set of effects, the string quartet joining in and creating expressive melodies over pre-recorded rhythmic loops made using prepared piano and electronics. The ensemble here is also a double quartet, so the richness of the strings is at times quite awe-inspiring, and the virtuoso ability of the players is stretched more than somewhat – a challenge to which they rise with deceptive sounding ease. The result is at times a sort of Tom Waits meets John Cage in a funky art installation gallery recently vacated by Jean Tinguely, but the music has an immediacy and vibrancy of character which is highly infectious. This is a John Adams experiment which I have to say won me over and has kept me ‘sold’ ever since. It’s only a shame that the entire cycle doesn’t appear here. With only four more pieces to make up the set of ten and plenty of room left on the disc the remaining movements might even have made nice opening and closing sections of the entire programme if the whole thing had been a bit much on its own in proportion to the rest.
Once again, Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà have created a winning CD. The recording is as clear and immediate as one could wish for, and the performances are stunning throughout. This is quite definitely the kind of thing we want to revive jaded spirits and to pump new life into the ‘classical’ genre catalogue, so pop out and buy a copy: you’ll have another potent anti-depressant weapon instantly to hand.
A potent anti-depressant – fab stuff.