One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount



Buy through MusicWeb
for £15.99 postage paid World-wide.

Musicweb Purchase button

John ADAMS (b. 1947)
Harmonielehre (1984/5) [42:05]
Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986) [5:04]
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
rec. 8-11 December 2010 (Harmonielehre); 7 September 2011 (Short Ride in a Fast Machine), live, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, USA
SFS MEDIA SFS 0053 [47:11]

Experience Classicsonline

John Adams is probably the pre-eminent composer in the USA today. I hope that he has had cause to change a view he expressed in 2008: that he was being blacklisted and monitored by the US security forces probably as a result of have written his opera The Death of Klinghoffer with its storyline of Middle-East terrorism. The opera concerns the hijacking by Palestinian terrorists of the cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985 and the murder of the wheelchair-bound Jewish/American passenger Leon Klinghoffer. Adams’ perception is reminiscent of the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
It was around 25 years ago that Adams came to world attention with his celebrated opera Nixon in China. The opera was based on US President Richard Nixon’s epochal 1972 encounter with Chairman Mao Tse-tung in the People's Republic of China. The libretto was severely critical of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. I’m looking forward to attending what will be the Berlin première of Nixon in China in September at the Philharmonie. It is to be performed by a fine cast of soloists headed by Gerald Finley, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers and conducted by Adams himself.
A score much admired by Adams devotees, Harmonielehre meaning ‘study of harmony’ in German, is named after Arnold Schoenberg’s treatise. Harmonielehre. It was commissioned and premièred in 1985 by the San Francisco Symphony under Edo de Waart during Adams’ time as the orchestra’s composer-in-residence. Adams said that he was inspired to write the work - often described as a symphony - as a result of a dream he had driving over the Bay Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay. In the dream, as he was looking across at the bay, a huge super-tanker in the bay just took off into the sky like a rocket with tremendous thrust.
The three movement score uses Adams’s own personal brand of minimalism with plenty of swiftly shifting harmonic variations and highly contrasted drama. As yet untitled the first movement, lasting over seventeen minutes here in performance, opens and closes with brutally pounding percussion. I found the energy of the relentless driving rhythms, graduated accelerations and shifting colours remarkable. A contrasting central section of nostalgic yearning contains distinct Sibelian elements and sends a Nordic chill right down to the bones. Titled The Amfortas Wound the slow movement was inspired by psychologist Carl Jung’s analogy of the medieval king Amfortas whose wounds could not be healed. Adams stated that this movement was about “… sickness and infirmity, physical and spiritual”. This is broodingly calm music with faint suggestions of a dark undercurrent and the forlorn strains of the trumpet in the high registers. The prevailing mood is broken by a short section of writing at 7:50-9:39 that quickly becomes more weighty and percussive. Adams gave the third movement the title Meister Eckhardt and Quackie as a result of a dream he had after his daughter Emily - nicknamed Quackie - was born. In the dream Quackie is riding on the shoulders of Meister Eckhardt the medieval mystic, gliding through space among the heavenly bodies. Immediately I was struck by the positive and agreeable disposition of the writing. Although the incessantly propulsive rhythms are still there they feel lighter. It is easy to imagine matter floating through outer space with the repeating process of coming closer then fading into the distance. In the lead-up to the conclusion at 7:04 the tempo quickens and the textures increase in weight becoming more angry with pounding percussion at 10:21. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra played for all they were worth under Michael Tilson Thomas. I can fully understand why the audience at Davies Symphony Hall cheered so loudly.
Short Ride in a Fast Machine was commissioned by the Great Woods Festival at Mansfield, Massachusetts in the USA and premièred in 1986 by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. In the same year the San Francisco Symphony under Edo de Waart were quick to perform the piece. Sometimes dubbed an ‘Orchestral Fanfare’ the score certainly blows the cobwebs away. It’s ebullient and exciting with those incessantly driving rhythms propelling the music forward. I can see why this short piece has become a concert hall encore. Sometimes the music evokes the sound-world of Aaron Copland especially in the brass writing.
These are masterly live performances played with intensity and radiant with character. The recording is first class, vividly clear and excellently balanced.
Michael Cookson


































































Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.