John Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony; String Quartetby John Adams
In terms of the scale of his compositions, John Adams' career is somewhat anomalous for a contemporary composer. While the usual pattern tends to be for a composer to begin a career writing smaller pieces (which have a far likelier chance of being performed) and then expanding to larger forms as his or her reputation grows, Adams (with very few exceptions) was writing large-scale operas and orchestral and choral works starting in the early '80s and didn't begin devoting himself to chamber music with any regularity until the mid-'90s. This CD includes the premiere recordings of two significant chamber works from late in the first decade of the 20th century, "Son of Chamber Symphony" (2007) and the "String Quartet" (2008). While the first "Chamber Symphony" (1992) was a forward looking piece, incorporating new levels of textural complexity and compositional sophistication, "Son of Chamber Symphony" tends to look backward. Its first movement is reminiscent of the wacky energy of the original "Chamber Symphony" and the sinuous melodic arabesques suspended over a thrumming accompaniment of the second movement calls to mind the opening of "The Death of Klinghoffer." If the third movement creates an unmistakable sense of déjà entendu, there's an explanation; it's Adams' riff on the "News" aria from "Nixon in China." While "Son of…" may not break new ground, it's an attractive work that ought to (and probably will) achieve traction with fans of its predecessor. Adams had written an earlier string quartet, the tongue-in-cheek "John's Book of Alleged Dances" in 10 brief movements, but he considers this newer quartet his first serious work in the genre. It incorporates some of the irreverent whimsy of the earlier piece, but the refinement and subtlety of its development demonstrate Adams' appreciation of the string quartet as the genre in which composers have frequently distilled their most profound and essential insights and is a noteworthy contribution to the repertoire. The St. Lawrence String Quartet plays it with all the care and finesse it brings to classics of the literature and with plenty of fire. Adams leads the International Chamber Ensemble in an energetic and polished performance of "Son of Chamber Symphony." Nonesuch's sound is clean, detailed, and realistically present.
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